Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Adult Braces: Rubber Band Replacement

Getting your rubber bands replaced at adjustments or because your eating adventures dyed the clear bands orange *cough* Buffalo Wings in Buffalo, NY and Skyline Coney Dogs in Ohio *cough* feels as if someone is trying to rip your teeth out of your face.

I suppose it isn't really so painful as it is disarming.  There is a lot of pressure that truly does feel as if they are trying to pull your teeth, but I think it is the fear of the unknown that makes it even more weird than the physical aspect.  You don't know what's going on - you can't see anything, you've never been through this before.  All you know is...*ow.*  You make a few weird faces and in sixty seconds it is all over.  The pain isn't even bad enough to need ibuprofen and only lasts for the moment that tooth is worked on.

Then you leave the office with beautiful, clear rubberbands and teeth on their way to perfection.  I'll take that deal any day.

Adult Braces: Making the Decision
Adult Braces: Getting Spacers aka The Prep Work
Adult Braces: Getting Braces On
Adult Braces: Learning to Eat with Braces
Adult Braces: My First Adjustment
Adult Braces: Rubber Band Replacement (the first few)
Adult Braces: My Second Adjustment
Adult Braces: My Third Adjustment

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Adult Braces: Learning to Eat With Braces

Until you have braces, there is no way to comprehend the dilemma most commonly referred to as "eating."

The first two days were simply odd - almost as if my mouth were numb.  We are used to our teeth feeling all the sensations of substance and temperature as we enjoy the bursting of molecules of foods jumping around our mouths.  Braces block most of that.  Even swallowing at all caused my tongue to rub on metal.  Days three and four brought on a lot of strife.  I tried to eat.  I tried to drink.  I work out a lot, so I knew I needed calories and forced myself to eat, but cried simultaneously. I've been through my fair share of blisters on the back part of my tongue and I know I still have to get my bottom back molars wrapped, which means I get to go through this transition process again soon.  Oy. That joke of days three and four only lasted two days, luckily.

Braces also block the capability of fully chewing with my molars (because of my build ups) and I've heard this is the same for many others.  Imagine taking a bite of pizza, chewing two or three times, then swallowing.  There will be big chunks of food you haven't had the opportunity of "flavor-bursting," as I like to call it.  There is something beautiful about the process of biting your food until you have pulverized each crumb and burst the flavors open in your mouth.   For me, no matter how many times I chew, my molars can't crunch down, always leaving me swallowing chunks of food that I wish with all my heart I could enjoy much more.

Speaking of enjoying food - this has been a huge mental hurdle for me.  I love food.  Understatement.  I LOVE food.  Imagine the frustration of, let's say, wanting to chew a Skittle and chomping once, then swallowing.  What a gyp, right?!  No savoring, no texture-enjoyment, no flavor-bursting, nothing!  I don't eat Skittles, that's just all I could think of that most people can relate to.  I have tried to eat all my favorite foods, but I just don't enjoy them anymore.  If it isn't the chewing dilemma, it's the fact that everything involves my tongue hitting metal.  Having that texture and taste involved with every bite kinda ruins it.  Now that I am six weeks in, I am through with the worst of my withdrawals and cravings.  I am not close to joking at all when I state that I felt like an addict going through withdrawals.    

When I do chew, I have to cover my mouth because I haven't yet gotten used to the food sticking on the front of my teeth and I think more food will get between my molars for the sad-sack chomp if I open wider.  I have to take bigger chomps to try and free the captive crumbs from their cages, which leads to a lot of embarrassing spitting and drooling.  Yes, I am not above admitting there has been a noticeably higher amount of saliva escaping these days.  I hear this all goes away pretty quickly.

Five weeks after I got braces, I was finally able to bite into soft breads with my front teeth, which weirds me right out as I feel the food sinking into my front braces.  I prefer cutting up all my food and shoving it directly to the back of my mouth.

What do I eat?

  • Squeezy fruit snacks.  Yep, the ones for kids like pureed mango, applesauce, peaches, and berries.
  • Mashed potatoes.  I prefer the instant because they take five minutes and there are no lumps I have to "gum" or suck on til they dissolve.
  • Milkshakes.  Oh Milkshakes.  Sonic peanut butter fudge is my best friend.  
  • Soft Serve.  Iceberg chocolate soft-serve has saved me too often.
  • Chocolate milk.  I drink 8 oz. before and after the gym and sometimes when I know I need to eat, but just can't work up the energy.
  • Protein drinks.  Calories, protein, calcium - it's efficient.  
  • Smoothies (nope).  We bought stuff for delicious, healthy, balanced nutritious meals, but I can't bring myself to make them because I'm too darned cold at home.  Will someone tell Rob 66-degrees is not warm?  I eat the soft-serve and shakes in the car on the way home, people.  
  • You might think popsicles and the like would be good, but anything that involves sticking your tongue out repetitively means a lot of abrasion and escaped saliva - not pretty and pleasant.
  • Avoid anything highly pigmented if you have ceremic braces with clear rubber bands - spaghetti sauce, curries, that sort of thing.  These will dye your brackets and your bands.

You may be wondering if I've lost weight.  Truth be told, I lost six pounds pretty quickly, but then I went on a trip to The Montage in Park City for a convention and immediately to Rochester, New York.  The Montage is a five-star hotel with five-star food.  I did my darndest to try everything I could at each meal.  In regards to Rochester, if you don't know a lot about the east coast, let me just tell you that it is food mecca.  I kept trying to eat everything I got my hands on.  Nothing was really that great because I couldn't enjoy the eating process, but I kept trying over and over again.  My mouth was so sore from all my trying I had to take pain medicine.  I gained all the weight back and didn't even enjoy the process.  I guess lame sauce is on my menu.

My final thoughts on this whole eating debacle is that in a few weeks everything will be fine and I'll have adapted.  In the midst of all of this, I've had many times where I can't imagine "getting used to" this new way of eating, but I know I will.  This is my honest point of view six weeks into the process.  I want other adults to know that it is ridiculously wonderful and ridiculously difficult all at the same time.  I didn't really find a lot from a patient's point of view before I got my braces, so I'm sharing.

Again, final thoughts: So worth it.

Buffalo Wings in Buffalo, New York - notice the fork for cramming things into
the back of my mouth to avoid biting with my front teeth

Adult Braces: Making the Decision
Adult Braces: Getting Spacers aka The Prep Work
Adult Braces: Getting Braces On
Adult Braces: Learning to Eat with Braces
Adult Braces: My First Adjustment
Adult Braces: Rubber Band Replacement (the first few)
Adult Braces: My Second Adjustment
Adult Braces: My Third Adjustment


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Adult Braces: Getting Braces On

Once I made the decision to get braces, everyone I consulted with told me, "Getting them on is the worst part."

Being an adult with good oral hygiene and no orthodonic work until now, I haven't really been poked and prodded and pushed.  People told me my mouth would be stretched beyond what I ever thought possible with a contraption and to make sure to take pain medication before going because my jaw would be ridiculously sore.

I forgot to take medicine.  I also forgot to have a painful jaw, apparently.  I wasn't sore one bit. The worst parts for me were the taste of whatever adhesive or cleaner they were using and then the cold air/water blowing - wooo, doggy, that was intense!  I've never before had cold tooth sensitivity.  But within an hour, they were done.  Totally brace-ified.  I had no idea we were already done even though they apologized that it took longer than usual for my tiny mouth and getting the brackets to stick.  I stood up carefully after being upside down for quite some time and still no pain.

Before Braces and After Getting Braces On

Rob, the generous and understanding hubs, took the above picture before I'd looked in the mirror.  Want to know the first thing I thought?  "Wow - I didn't realize braces came with complementary collagen injections for my lips!"  I could not believe, and still can't believe, how much more voluptuous my lips look when my mouth is shut.  I'm going to miss these plump kissers when the braces come off.

In fact, I was in entirely pretty pain-free bliss for the first two days.  Eating was weird, as I was tentative of knocking off these strange new things on my teeth and all my food gravitated to them like magnets.

Days three and four brought on quite a bit of misery.  By that point, the metal had been rubbing at virgin skin for enough time to create raw spots, blisters, and general swelling on the tongue and cheeks.  Enter the wax.  One friend was very firm in her conviction that powering through this tough time without applying wax to the braces opposite where my skin was raw would help calluses form more quickly and I'd be better off quicker.  I took her advice.  I only applied wax twice.

By day five I was doing much better, verging on "okay."

Within a week, my pain and general getting used to the braces had subsided enough that I noticed the "build-ups."  Build ups are basically temporary fillings in two teeth to keep your bite from going down far enough to knock off your brackets (the square part in the middle of the tooth).  I knew this, but it didn't sink in that I would no longer be able to shut my molars all the way.  I'll talk more about this in my post about learning how to eat.

I can't describe the weirdness of waking up with your cheeks totally stuck to your braced teeth.  Or biting down as you have your whole life and your teeth only coming into contact in two places.  Or spending time cleaning out your mouth after every meal only to find a huge piece of something you aren't even sure you ate stuck to your front tooth.  Where is that crud hiding?!

Generally speaking, it took a few weeks to get used to my cheek skin catching on parts of my braces (which hasn't happened for two weeks now), figuring out if I needed to get my wires trimmed (if your teeth have moved enough, there will be excess wire towards the back of your mouth), and eating foods that won't dye my clear rubber bands.

I ended up having to get my rubber bands replaced three weeks in due to eating some brightly-sauced buffalo wings in Buffalo.  I knew better, but I had to!  I would highly advise against doing this while your teeth are still tender from the initial application of the braces.  Yowzas.

My teeth were actually sore until about a week ago.  The best part about my teeth being sore is knowing they are moving.  One of my bottom teeth, in particular, was the longest victim of pain and I couldn't figure out why until one morning I looked in the mirror and realized it is now in front of a tooth it had been hiding behind for 17 years.  There is nothing like waking up and feeling something different in your mouth only to quickly realize it is exposure to part of your tooth you have no memory of ever feeling.

But folks...

My first adjustment appointment is tomorrow.  I've told several people this week and they all make the same agonizing groan followed by a pained sucking in of air.  I've stocked up on chocolate milk and mashed potatoes, so I'm good.  I think.

I'm more excited than anything, truthfully.  The amount of change I have seen in six short weeks is unbelievable.  I sit in front of the mirror almost every night staring.  Seventeen years I have wanted these changes and, *poof,* in six weeks they are here.  In spite of all of this initial discomfort and perhaps a few emotional break-downs, I have three words to summarize my feelings so far: "So worth it."  

Adult Braces: Making the Decision
Adult Braces: Getting Spacers aka The Prep Work
Adult Braces: Getting Braces On
Adult Braces: Learning to Eat with Braces
Adult Braces: My First Adjustment
Adult Braces: Rubber Band Replacement (the first few)
Adult Braces: My Second Adjustment
Adult Braces: My Third Adjustment

Monday, December 1, 2014

Adult Braces: Getting Spacers aka The Prep Work


I had never heard of these little suckers until I walked into my appointment and said, "I decided to get braces!" (instead of Invisalign)

Immediately, I was escorted to the chair to get my spacers in for a week before the braces.  Apparently these suckers separate your teeth enough to allow for space for the wires to go around your teeth in the back as needed.  My teeth have always loved each other very much and even occasionally gang up in a game of tug-of-war between me and my floss.

They are so tight, in fact, that these cushy-looking foam spacers in the below picture would not fit between my teeth.  I had to have metal.  Ouch.  For some reason, I wasn't prepared.  I didn't realize I wouldn't be able to eat without those metal pieces jamming into my teeth and gums.  On top of that, the pressure of my teeth moving was unlike anything I've ever experienced.  To top it all off, one of the metal pieces did not get along with my bite and came apart to start stabbing my gum in a bloody brawl within 8 hours of placement.  Needless to say, I pulled that sucker out and went back to the doctor the next day.  In just that little bit of time, my teeth had separated enough to allow for a foam spacer, but then my bite is so wonky that I immediately bit right through the thing.  The doctor said it would be okay to wait and work on that particular space later in the process.

I finally started getting used to the spacers one day before I got my braces.  I'd been nibbling at everything with just my front teeth, not yet realizing that front-teeth-nibbling is not something I'd be able to do again until the braces are off.  I had to learn to eat one way with spacers and an entirely opposite way with braces.

When I went in for my application appointment a week later, I was shocked to see how quickly my teeth decided to part ways with each other and leave room for the braces.  Seeing results fast is encouraging.  I was also shocked at how quickly braces are applied because less than an hour later, my life for the next two years was changed.

Adult Braces: Making the Decision
Adult Braces: Getting Spacers aka The Prep Work
Adult Braces: Getting Braces On
Adult Braces: Learning to Eat with Braces
Adult Braces: My First Adjustment
Adult Braces: Rubber Band Replacement (the first few)
Adult Braces: My Second Adjustment
Adult Braces: My Third Adjustment

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Adult Braces: Making the Decision

The decision took me over two years.  My first consultation with Dr. Hamid Omana was in March or April of 2012.

Let me give you some background.  When I was 17, I noticed my perfectly straight teeth starting to crowd/move.  I thought perhaps the impending doom of wisdom teeth was the cause, so I begged to get them removed Christmas of my Senior Year.  My teeth obviously didn't agree with me about the reason to move and kept shifting.  At 22, after I graduated from college, I asked a dentist at home in Ohio what he thought I should do and he responded, "Your teeth aren't very crooked.  If you get braces now, you'll just have to get them again later in life because your teeth will continue to shift your whole life."  I had no idea I should have been asking those questions of an Orthodontist, not my dentist.  

Flash forward to 2012.  I innocently thought Invisalign (clear retainers as an alternative to wires and brackets) would be the solution for my crooked-since-I-was-17 smile.  I was prepared for a financial investment of about $4,000 because adults don't get the same sweet insurance treatment as adolescents.

Then these words changed everything, "Your jaw is misaligned."
Me: "What does that mean?"
Dr. Omana: "Invisalign will only temporarily straighten your top teeth.  We need to correct your bite to get and keep your teeth straight."
He proceeded to show me the type of braces and rigging I'd need, as well as letting me know the whole process would take two years.

I was single at the time and dating pretty frequently.  I worried braces would affect that.  Worst of all, what if I did happen to meet "the one" and had braces in wedding photos?  That was a thought I couldn't live with, so I decided to "wait until after I get married."  Which is kind of dumb considering I was almost 31 and in no rush to get married.  Sooner is always better than later.  Wouldn't you know it, I did end up meeting my Rob and getting married within that two-year time span.

After marriage, I faced all sorts of self-image doubts and medication weight fluctuations. I knew I needed braces to correct my crooked jaw/bite, but I didn't know if I could handle the potential self-esteem issues.  Notice I said "potential," not "definite."  I realized I was making an important medical decision off of something that "might" be.

Flash Forward to October of 2014.  Thirty-four year old Larissa drags her hubby to Dr. Omana's office so he can hear all of the medical jargon.  We took a week to mull over the decision.  My two other concerns were in regards to my career and my extra-curriculars.  At the time of my first consultation, I worked behind a desk, so that didn't matter.  Now, however, I work with high-end weddings and corporate events.  Outside of events, I perform with local theater groups.  Will any directors cast someone with braces?  Again, I can't make a life-changing decision based off of what "might" be.

Once the decision was made, over two years of worrying about this decision seemed stupid.  The process started immediately - there were so many things I wasn't ready for and yet I was entirely ready.

For all of you adults who may be contemplating the same question - "To get adult braces?" - I'll recount to you in the next post about the prep, application, and week after.

Adult Braces: Making the Decision
Adult Braces: Getting Spacers aka The Prep Work
Adult Braces: Getting Braces On
Adult Braces: Learning to Eat with Braces
Adult Braces: My First Adjustment
Adult Braces: Rubber Band Replacement (the first few)
Adult Braces: My Second Adjustment
Adult Braces: My Third Adjustment

Yes, I have braces in this photo.  Hard to believe, right?  I'd had them for four whole days at this point.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Marvelous Wonderettes: Sandy City Arts

For the next two weekends you have the opportunity to come watch the absolutely delightful four-woman show from the eras of 1958 and 1968, The Marvelous Wonderettes.

I'm on stage the entire time. Needless to say, it's the hardest I've ever worked on a show in my life. If ever there were a show of mine you should see, it's this one - funny, intimate, colorful, and...just...you should come!  I grew up listening to all of these songs and I about bust with excitement that I get to perform them for all of you with the absolute nicest ladies and production team around!

Marvelous Wonderettes:

  • October 10, 11, 13, 17, 18 @ 7:30 pm at Sandy City Hall Chamber Theater
  • Run time (including intermission): 2 hrs. 
  • Purchase tickets: 
    • Phone-801-568-ARTS (2787); M-F, 9 am – 4pm – by doing this you willavoid on-line convenience and handling fees. Leave a callback number if your call is not answered. They are good about returning calls.
    • Sandy City Hall, #310 – M-F, 9am – 4pm
    • Purchase at the door
    • www.sandyarts.com – Convenience fees are charged for on line, so calling or buying at the door will be cheaper. 
  • Adult -$12, Seniors-$10, Students w/ID-$8

Additional Details: http://www.sandyarts.com/sandy-arts-guild/side-menu/musicalsplays.html

Monday, June 16, 2014

Spring Awakening: Midvale Main Street Theatre

Winter is a dreary, lonely few months at the beginning of every year.  Sometimes we feel an ache, knowing there is more out there for us in the sunshine of spring.  Our senses are teased and titillated with the changing sights, smells, sounds, and sensations the change of seasons brings.  Take yourself back to the days of your adolescence around the time your body began to feel things it had never felt, your mind began to dream of things you didn't understand, and you started feeling desires to be in the companionship of a certain girl or boy in a way you didn't quite understand.  The winter of the body had turned into spring.

Spring Awakening, being produced at Midvale Main Street Theatre, is an aptly named rock musical based on the banned 1891 German play of the same title.  Child abuse, rape, suicide, incest, abortion, and homosexuality are all contributors to the banning of the play and the deep substance of the production.  Set in 19th-century Germany, one may think the time-period's approach to a sexual awakening of youth to be antiquated, but it is alarmingly frightening how true the show resonates with the youth of today.

For more of this review, please visit Front Row Reviewers.

Monday, June 9, 2014

New York White Pizza Recipe

I discovered white pizza on a random day in New York City.  We put in our names to eat at Serendipity, but given the hour-long wait, we decided to get some lunch across the street at Patsy's Pizzeria before our dessert.  My sister, Britney, and I both love cheese and decided to order something we'd never heard of, but appealed to us due to it's "all cheese, no sauce" nature - white pizza.

That day, dear friends, was the day I fell in love.  Every single trip we have taken to New York since has involved at least one trip to Patsy's for white pizza.  

I have been to over a half dozen pizzerias in Salt Lake City and none of them come close to replicating my Patsy's, not even the one that so kindly tried to replicate a recipe from online for us.  Naturally, I had to create my own.  Unfortunately, I have no coal oven and don't want the fuss of making hand-tossed dough, so regular ole store-bought dough will have to do.

I served this super easy recipe at my 2014 Tony Awards party to rave reviews - one guest even told me that my white pizza deserved a Tony.  

  • 1 thin-crust pizza dough (use the in-a-can kind at your grocery store or buy at local pizzeria)
  • Pre-minced garlic (dollar a jar, so worth not having to mince your own and lasts forever)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, little more if needed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Oregano to taste (1 tsp - 1 tbsp)
  • hand-shredded into tiny pieces of fresh basil to your liking - 1-2 tablespoons or 2 sprigs of leaves should be enough
  • 1.5 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 3/4 - 1 cup ricotta
  • 3/4 - 1 cup parmigiano-reggiano 
  • Several Slices of fresh mozzarella or about 12 balls of fresh mozzarella - your choice - heck add a ton of cheese if you want, it's your pizza!  Just make sure there is some fresh mozz in every bite.

  • Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
  • Evenly spread olive oil over cookie sheet
  • Spread dough onto cookie sheet
  • Lightly dab minced garlic all over dough, be careful to not over-do it but also get it evenly distributed
  • Place dough in the oven for 5 minutes
  • Spread shredded mozz on dough over entire crust, leave no edges (continue covering entire crust when adding toppings)
  • Sprinkle salt and pepper over mozz & dough to your liking
  • Sprinkle oregano evenly
  • Dollop teaspoon sized mounds of ricotta all over dough, making sure to leave them in their dollop-mounds 
  • Sprinkle parmigiano-reggiano evenly 
  • Spread fresh mozz (slices or balls, whatever you chose) over entire pizza
  • Sprinkle hand-shredded tiny pieces of basil evenly
  • Bake for 10 minutes at 400
  • Cool at least five minutes on the sheet before eating, but if you want to burn your tongue, go for it sooner

I didn't take a picture, but I will post one next time I make this, which shouldn't be too long:-)  

Monday, May 12, 2014

Levain Bakery Copycat Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip Recipe

One of my favorite bakeries in New York City is Levain.  Their dark chocolate chocolate chip cookie is the devil's own specially created 6-ounce temptation personalized for me. You might say this gooey delight is more like a cookie-brownie than your traditional cookie.

Upon return from my recent two-week sojourn in NYC, I knew I could not last another year without the glory of Levain blanketing my tastebuds with ecstasy.  I tried several great copycat recipes (here, here, and here), but either the texture or the taste was off, perhaps due to the high altitude of Utah.  Not to mention some of the dozens of recipes out there are rather intricate.  I know baking is a science, but...seriously?  I'm not one for over-complication. I took the parts of each recipe that I believed created the right taste or texture and created one of my own, only slightly different than the others I linked to, but in baking slight can make a big difference.  Success!

  • 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-2 tsp vanilla according to your taste preferences (Levain doesn't use vanilla, but it works for the copycat)
  • 1/2 cup dark cocoa powder (I use Hershey's special dark)
  • 1 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips (Use Trader Joe's semi-sweet or Scharffen-Berger Baking Chunks 62% Cacao if you can, if not, use Ghiardelli or Hershey special dark, do not use Nestle)

  • Mix butter and sugars together until fluffy and incorporated (over-mixing just melts butter, which you don't want)
  • Mix in Eggs and Vanilla just until incorporated
  • Mix in Dark Cocoa Powder until Incorporated
  • Add Bread Flour, mix until flour isn't creating dust as stirring
  • Add in All-Purpose Flour, Salt, and Baking Powder, mix until well incorporated and entire mix is dark and moist, no chunks
  • Make sure your hands are clean and knead in the entire package of chocolate chips, the dough will be moist and slightly sticky, but pliable with your hands.  Other recipes say the dough should be very dry, but I did not find this to be true. 
  • Divide dough into 12 3-4 ounce portions.  I used a 1/3 cup measuring cup filled with dough to divide since I didn't have the scale out.  Yes, they are huge.  Levain's are even bigger.
  • If you want a smooth "pretty" cookie, roll those portions into balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.  If you want a jagged cookie for more crispy texture points like Levain, roll the cookie into a ball, then rip and half and join at the smooth ends, so the jagged ripped portions are exposed.  Place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.
  • Place the cookie dough sections in the freezer for one hour (longer is fine).
  • Bake cookies six at a time for 18 minutes at 350.
  • I simply slid the wax paper with the cookies off the cookie sheet onto the counter immediately after removal to let them cool.  
  • If you have any left the next day, they are delicious cool or taste fresh-baked with 10 seconds in the microwave.  

I hope you love these as much as I do! 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Shrek: The Empress Theatre

I recently reviewed Shrek the Musical at the Empress Theatre for Front Row Reviewers Utah.

Have you ever wished that someone would get to know you before judging you? Have you ever wished you had a chance to show someone who you are inside?  Shrek the Musical at The Empress Theatre in Magna is one of those stories that everyone can relate to – the exterior is exuberant characters and jokes, while the interior shows us that the very best parts of us are those that make us different.

If you'd like to read more, please do so here.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Grace: Utah Repertory Theater Company

Grace is the story of, in the words of playwright Craig Wright, "A man who believes God is on his side coming face to face with the fact that that just isn't true.  Disastrous consequences ensue."  Throughout the performance, we clearly see how the male characters let their pasts define who they are and somehow feel restrictions - whether condemnation or elation, from a higher power, be that God or not.  We also see a theme of how we let man's damages leave their mark on us, viewing all the man-imposed standards of good as right.  But who is to say how God's true divinity in our lives really manifests?

Utah Repertory Theater Company's performance of Grace perfectly demonstrates everything that is wrong with Christianity in the character of Steve, performed with crazy-eyed furiosity by Johnny Hebda.   What are the two biggest things you think of when you think of Christianity gone wrong in the state of Utah?  Did pushy sales people and overzealous, relentlessly forced conversion tactics cross your mind?  I giggled a little when I wrote down, "Jesus freak," in my notes, only to have another character refer to him as that exact thing not even ten minutes later. 

In perfect contrast to Steve's warped view of his self-created divinity, Emilie Eileen Starr as Sara is a gentle example of what is truly divine through unconditional love.  Her motives are not purely based on trying to convert or sell something to anything that breathes.  Sara wants everyone to feel love in their lives, a theme a well-loved blockbuster musical has made familiar - "To love another person is to see the face of God."  She knows this and feels this.  Steve is as far removed from this reality as they come - only capable of loving those who believe exactly as he believes. 

Shortly after we are introduced to Steve and Sara, we meet elderly Karl, the exterminator at the apartment complex, played with crotchety vivaciousness by Jeffrey Owen.  I was shocked to see his photo and realize he is actually quite youthful.  His character brings humor, as well as that established feeling of an apartment complex with people from all walks of life - that history you want to feel well-rounded as a people. 

Jayc Stoddard as Sam, our scarred NASA employee, has a storyline that shows us how life can change in an instant, as well as his demeanor.  The audience sees how this gentle, loving, successful man before his accident, has turned into a scornful recluse.  His attitude often switches from viscious to remorseful in the snap of a finger, but the way Stoddard plays this character makes this make sense.  You see how he's let darkness into his life and always immediately realizes where there could be light.  Utah audiences need to know that Sam's exclamation of choice is the notorious "F word," which he begins to correct himself on throughout the show - another exemplification of how his life becomes more and more light through the influence of the good (Sara) around him. 

I previously mentioned the aging of Jeffrey Owen into elderly Karl. Kelly Donahue brings to life her wonderful makeup design. The scars on the face of Sam, the scene-by-scene spreading rashes of Steve, and the aging of Karl were all beautifully created.

Speaking of beautiful creations, the stage direction of the show really struck a chord with me.  Every actor occupies the same space on stage, representing several actual spaces.  In the Director's notes, we see this perfectly explained through one of Sara's lines, "We're here together.  The idea that we're not all in any way somehow here for each other but just somehow beside each other is just stupid."  We are all here together, occupying the same space.

Another creation in the stage direction I particularly enjoyed is the use of the "replay."  In life, we are always asking ourselves, "What if I could go back?"  But you can't go back in life, you can't change what has already happened.  The replays in this production demonstrate the inability to change the past.

In regards to the set and other technical aspects of the show, with a four-man show in a space that only seats 90, there isn't much required.  No microphones were used, which I always prefer, as the actors natural cantor and intonation is better than anything electronic and prevents the ridiculous feedback problems that plague Utah theater.  The background Christian music was a nice effect between scenes, as the scene changes felt long, but when you realize the actors were changing wardrobes, hair, and makeup within those 60-seconds, you quickly forgive the time.  I also loved the slight hum and sound of water running as background, making me feel as if I were near a coast in Florida - unfortunately I was duped because the show ended and I realized it was the hum of the utilities in the building, so I guess I can't give Utah Rep credit for that choice.

Grace is a show that will make you think.  There are no bright and happy musical numbers, no elaborate and colorful sets, but there are characters and themes that will encourage you to contemplate your situation in life and your choices for light and happiness therein.  I highly recommend this show, however, if you are even slightly offended by harsh language, I would suggest you stay away from this production.  For those who attend, you will be touched.

You can catch the final two performances of Grace for $15 at Sugar Space this Saturday May 10 at 2pm and 7:30pm.  You can purchase tickets here. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Friday, March 14, 2014

Twelve Angry Jurors: Midvale Arts Council

"...You've listened to a long and complex case, murder in the first degree. Premeditated murder is the most serious charge tried in our criminal courts. You've listened to the testimony, you've had the law read to you and interpreted as it applies in this case, it's now your duty to sit down and try to separate the facts from the fancy. One man is dead, another man's life is at stake, if there's a reasonable doubt in your minds as to the guilt of the accused... then you must bring me a verdict of "Not Guilty". If, however, there's no reasonable doubt, then you must, in good conscience, find the accused "Guilty". However you decide, your verdict must be unanimous. In the event that you find the accused "Guilty", the bench will not entertain a recommendation for mercy. The death sentence is mandatory in this case. You're faced with a grave responsibility, thank you, gentlemen."

 And so the audience is introduced to what they will witness in the following hour plus a few minutes of deliberation amongst twelve jurors.  This show is adapted from Twelve Angry Men to accommodate the inclusion of both men and women.  I've seen both versions and it bothers me that angry men are seen as passionate, while angry women are more often seen as wenches.  Throughout this production, you see that in spite of the stubbornness and preconceived notions of the jurors, they are all somewhat open-minded to possibilities that life exists beyond their prejudices.  

To read the remainder of this review, go here

Photo Courtesy of www.midvalearts.com

Friday, March 7, 2014

What Surprises did I Face in the First Few Months of Marriage?

For those of you who have not yet seen my guest blog for The Cultural Hall, here is a little teaser.

Four months.
That’s how long I’ve had to figure out this whole marriage mystery – life with the blinders off as some would say.
Many have asked what has surprised me most about marriage.  Most of the answers that immediately start scrolling the news banner in my brain would either be of such saccharine mush that the askers would surely lose their recently consumed sugar that all the crap has been blessed out of, or be improprietous at best.
Thirty-Three Years.
That’s how long I’ve had to listen to all of the conversations and advice on all of the marital surprises or lack thereof.
So, what is most surprising?

Check out the post here to find out!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Reviewing Shows vs Previewing Shows

More than reviewing shows in Utah, I love to preview them.  

Sometimes an outside set of eyes sees something that a person heavily involved in the show doesn't see after two months of daily rehearsals.

I've been asked to review several shows and I have a blast thinking that someone out there may value my opinion. 

However, I've also been asked to see a couple of shows a week or two before they open.  Why?  To share my feedback on what is or isn't working.  I love this so much more than reviewing.

Previewing a show is certainly more entertaining in it's own right, but not for value of the show.  I like to see how hard people are working and the human side of the actors.  Most of all, I like knowing that what I have to share with them can actually make a difference in the quality of the show.  We all love reviews when they are good.  What about when they are bad?  The worst feeling for me is when I have something negative to say about a show and I know it could have been fixed prior to the show opening.  How can you give constructive criticism when all of the construction is already finished?

I'm not an expert, let me be clear on that.  I think my lack of "being an expert" is just what makes my observations poignant.  How many people seeing community theater in Utah are experts?  How many people are folks who know a thing or two about theater and simply enjoy the show?  I have quite a lengthy list of experiences both on and off the stage for over 20 years and I have seen over 100 Broadway productions in New York City - this doesn't make me an expert, but it sure does give me an eye for a good performance. 

I love reviewing shows, however, if anyone out there ever wants another pair of eyes at any point in the rehearsal process, I'd love to come and give my two cents.  I love making a difference.

Photo courtesy of: http://www.centuryvillagecondoforsale.com/theater-and-entertainment/

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Standing Ovation Phenomenon in Utah

If a production absolutely knocks you off your feet, then you get on your feet at the end of the show to applaud.  This is what we call a "standing ovation."

I have participated in audiences from L.A. to San Francisco to Alaska to Hawaii to New York City (dozens) to Ohio to Florida to even Branson, Missouri...you get the picture.  I've seen more than my fair share of productions.

Utah audiences have this unique approach to the standing ovation, the likes of which I have encountered nowhere else.  I think it would be fair to state that at the conclusion of an artist's performance, the audience milks it more than the actual performer.  They have this innate know-how and drive to get exactly what they want - more performing.

Here's how it goes in Utah:
1. Performer (theater, concert, or otherwise) gives their best performance and concludes their performance
2. Audience jumps to their feet and claps in uproarious thunder, regardless of if the performance was actually good or not
     - Shouldn't a performance be noteworthy to earn such a special kind of applause?
3. Performer re-enters the stage for the encore
     - Most performers are all-too familiar with the encore and have one prepared
     - After encore #1 is when most audiences know the show is complete
4. Utah audience continues to clap as if trying to shake down the rains from heaven
     - Performer re-enters and performs yet a second encore, most at least have a trick
       up their sleeves
5. Utah audience continues to clap with all the gusto of a stampeding heard of buffalo
     - Performer re-enters and most often will say they don't have another encore
       prepared, thank you, and please go home
6. Utah audience still doesn't get it until the lights in the theater come up and the stage begins to clear of anything that resembles a performer

I have actually seen five encores before while attending the performance of a Broadway diva with the Utah Symphony.  Five!  Can you imagine?

I'm curious as to how this all started.  How did Utah audiences start clapping and never stop?  How do they all seem to just know they should do this? 

Image from inc.com

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bonnie and Clyde: Utah Repertory Theater Company

I'm sure when you think of "musical," Bonnie and Clyde is not exactly the storyline that comes to mind.  But let me tell you what - Utah Repertory Theater's production of Bonnie and Clyde, as strange a concept as that is, sparked my interest in the actual historic events of Bonnie and Clyde to the extent that I spent several hours researching the story.

I wanted to know the truth or not-truth of these seemingly unbelievable events.  Was I ever surprised!  Creative liberties aside, the musical did a pretty good job conveying some of the parts about which I thought, "That couldn't be true."  Did you know Bonnie was a poet and predicted her own demise?  I found this all surprising because (I am guessing that most people of my generation and younger are in the same boat as me) I have never seen the classic film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway

For those not familiar with this infamous duo, we can sum up the story to say they were two 1930s southern outlaws in love, leading a murderous crime spree which ended in their gruesome deaths.

I had a little bit of difficulty finding Lehi Arts Center, where the production is housed, simply because my AppleMaps decided to take me on an adventure.  I showed up 6 minutes late, but Utah Rep caters towards Utah audiences who are preternaturally late, and I ended up being seated without being rude.

I immediately noticed the decor.  I absolutely fell in love with what they did with the space.  Each character is based off of an actual historical figure, which means we have photographs of the people involved.  The production company decided to recreate scenes and costumes to match existing photographs, then placed the actual character photo next to the cast member's photo.   To match this theme, at the conclusion of the show, they showed actual footage of the final ambush of Bonnie and Clyde.

The set is solid and perfect for the show, including a car they move on and off the stage through the set.  I'm not sure how the accomplished such a feat in the prohibitive venue, but it absolutely works thanks to the design of Steve Twede.  You will see the live accompaniment group off to the side, for which I say, "Kudos" to the director, Anjanette Mickelsen - she was paying very close attention to the actors on stage and spot-on with cues.

We first meet Bonnie and Clyde as adorable youth (Abigail Parkinson and Kimball Bradford), one with a dream to be a star, the other with a dream of becoming an outlaw.   The introductory song transitions into seeing the duo in adulthood shortly before they meet each other. Cue the entrance of the absolutely mesmerizing Madeline Weinberger as Bonnie Parker.  Can I say she was sheer perfection?  She alone is worth the price of admission.  I could not find a flaw with anything - her acting, her singing, and her movement were all exact.  Everything about her performance lead me to wonder what on earth this talent is doing on a stage in Utah County instead of in New York City.  Johnny Hebda as Clyde is a talented man with a wide range in acting and a lovely voice, but the role, for me, simply was not a fit in vocal range and the rough-and-tumble persona required to convince the audience he is murderous outlaw Clyde Barrow.

Buck Barrow, Clyde's brother, is the next character we meet after he has busted out of jail.  Of course the ladies then burst into a musical number about how he needs to go back to jail.  This is the part of the show you will find yourself giggling and smiling the most, as the women are in a beauty shop and bossing this fugitive around...you just have to see it, it was great comic relief.  I think it was around this time that there was an absolutely hilarious scene where a deputy tries to seduce one of the women with his gun and she is falling for it.  However, this side-action upstaged the dialogue of the main characters to the extent that the entire audience was laughing and we couldn't even hear the conversational exchange.  I hope I didn't miss anything important.

Throughout the production we meet many more characters, all of whom are integral to the action and ultimate demise of Bonnie and Clyde.  All of the actors and actresses lived up to my expectations for what I have come to know of Utah Rep. I was impressed with Christopher Bradford's vocal manipulation to have this soulful, gravelly voice as the minister.  He later sings in a more classical musical theater style, both of which are impressive.  I also appreciated the character of Blanche Barrow, Buck's wife, portrayed by Michelle Moore the night I attended, but Twyla Wilson on others.  She has some sassy lines which surprise you from what you can tell is supposed to be the straight-man character.  

But can I tell you who really won my heart?  Dallin Major as Ted Hinton, a man who played a large part in the final ambush of our outlaws.  Major convincingly portrayed a love-struck lawman torn between what he knew about a young girl and the reality of the law in front of him and he did it all while singing the sweetest melodic tones your eardrums could ever wish to hear.  I hope my company for the evening is alright with me confessing on her behalf that she said emphatically after the show, "His voice changed my life!"

I have to give shout-outs to several of the ensemble members.  Kira Knorr has an absolutely angelic voice -  we heard her soprano as she was walking through the aisles next to us. Cara Baker as the bank teller may have only had a few lines, but she delivered them with great characterization and panache.  Few actors can develop a character like hers in such a brief moment.

Towards the end of the show, if you've absorbed the awesomeness of the cast recreation photos aformentioned, then you will notice what a brilliant job the costume designer did in recreating one of the Bonnie's actual outfits.  I seriously couldn't get enough of this- I kept looking at the stage, then looking at the poster on the wall, then looking at the stage.  Well done, Nancy Susan Cannon. 

One word of advice for Utah audiences - know the show you are going to see!  I cannot tell you how many times I have seen audience members walk out of a production because of an inappropriate word or joke or scene, and this show was no exception.  My question is, "Why were you there if there was what you consider to be questionable material?"  Bonnie and Clyde were outlaws in love - they slept together, they swore, they killed.  If you are not prepared to see a show that contains that kind of content, then this is not the show for you.  That being said, the show would be rated a soft PG-13 if it were a movie.  Utah Rep has a content advisory on their website for the show listing the possible offenses you can check out here if you are wondering.   Also, be advised there are simulated gunshots in this production and the are loud...very, very loud. 

If you are interested in seeing a different kind of musical that has never been produced in Utah and has only been produced nine times since closing on Broadway, then you definitely need to see Utah Repertory Theater's production of Bonnie and Clyde at the Lehi Arts Center.  You will be thrilled to find yourself in an intimate setting surrounded by a marvelous level of talent and absolutely enthralled with the story.  Be prepared to carve out some extra time for yourself to go home and do a little more digging on the truth of Bonnie and Clyde's lives, I know I absolutely couldn't resist.  In fact, if you are at all thinking about seeing this show, you will be making a huge mistake if you don't go.

Bonnie and Clyde plays January 17 – Feb 1 2014 at the Lehi Arts Center, 685 N. Center Street, Lehi with performances Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and matinees at 2:00 p.m.  The show runs approximately 2 hrs. and 45 min.  Tickets are $15-$18 and you can purchase them here.

Lead Cast and Production Team:
Madeline Weinberger - Bonnie Parker
Johnny Hebda - Clyde Barrow
Michelle Moore and Twyla Wilson - Blanche Barrow
Johnn Wilson - Buck Barrow
Dallin Major - Ted Hinton
Christopher Bradford - Preacher
Cara Baker - Bank Teller
Kimball Bradford - Young Clyde
Abigail Parkinson - Young Bonnie
Adam Cannon - Director
Anjanette Mickelsen - Music Director
Ashley Ramsey - Choreographer
JC Carter - Producer
Annie Brantley - Stage Manager
Nancy Susan Cannon - Custume Designer
Kelly Donahue - Makeup and Hair Designer
Steve Twede - Set Designer