Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sands UK Tour, Day Fifteen: Plymouth

Ten years ago this month, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS UK) sent my solo performance I Hate This (a play without the baby) on a seven date tour of Great Britain.

Friday, 22 June 2007 


Salvation Army Hall
The schizophrenic weather of Plymouth kept us on our toes all day. The folks took a lovely boat ride in the harbor, while it intermittently pissed rain and shone bright, warm sun. Meanwhile, My stage manager and I met our contact at the hall for tech.

It's a big room, the Salvation Army meeting hall, and our contact had high expectations. There were twenty seats purchased in advance, there were notices in local papers and he did an interview which was played several times, yesterday and today, on the radio station, Plymouth Sound.

I asked him what the pitch was. He is quite familiar with I Hate This, having seen it last October, and listening to the radio drama several times. Describing it over lunch he made it sound like a gripping, exciting drama, one that anyone could get into. So that sounded great.

They'd set up chairs for maybe two hundred on the main floor, with overflow capacity in the balcony for another fifty. I know he was being cheeky when he suggested we might need all those seats, but I also know he was holding out hope for a large turnout.

You can see where I am going with this. In fact, if you have any previous knowledge about the history of this production, the fact that the house was small shouldn't surprise you. It didn't surprise me, and I was not disappointed by it, It was odd that almost half the people who had made paid reservations did not show up, though there were a few walk-ups.

That included one very tall man who had made a reservation for the Exeter performance, and called the day-of to ask for directions, and was surprised to find only that way that the event had been cancelled. He said he drove like mad to get here tonight.

It was challenging balancing the small crowd (I am thankful they were asked to move to the front of the house) and the large space. There were points where I stepped down off the stage and stood right in front of them.

Following tea and cake, our Q&A was almost like a group session, we treated it as one. My wife and I weren't up on the stage, we were down with everyone, talking about our stories.

That reminds me of an interesting thing ... yesterday, after we'd split into two groups, Our contact and my stage manager and I were wandering through Drake's Circus. She went off to the loo, and he and I were just standing there in the middle of this busy mall.

I just blurted out, "So ... what's your story?"

He blinked, inhaled, and told me. And that was good.

Smeaton's Tower
You know, over the course of the past two weeks, My wife and I took a little time to grow into our role as child loss ambassadors, or whatever you might want to call us. In Carlisle we were a bit too scattered to be as personable, or sensitive as we might have liked. I'm not saying we were impolite, but my interactions with our contact there were very business-like -- I need this, I need that, do you think these things can be taken care of by tomorrow -- and we spent most of the intervening time relaxing, making sure the kids were adjusting, and so on.

We'd even showed up late that first afternoon, because we were enjoying ourselves in Glasgow, and didn't bother to call her to let her know.

It wasn't until after the performance that I had a chance to chat with her husband about their little boy, and then say something to her some time shortly before we departed for the evening. I can make excuses about being wobbly, nervous and uncertain, but I still wish I'd started off better.

And yet, "What's your story?" I don't think I'd ever asked anyone about their child so bluntly in my life. It didn't hurt that our Plymouth contact seems like a guy who you can talk to like that. I also wondered after the fact if it's because I don't usually ask guys about their children, I usually start with the women and the approach is much softer.

The discussion was very warm and everyone was very kind. There were an awful lot of men in that small crowd, and it was good to see them, sitting so stoically in their seats. But when the time came I heard what I am always glad to hear, that this story is like theirs, there is so much in common in my story to theirs.

The wife observed a few days ago that she sometimes feels it is odd, sitting up on a stage, talking about our loss, and having so many people ask us about it, as though our loss is more significant than theirs. I don't see it that way. Maybe I am the guy who stands up publicly to tell his story not because my story is more poignant, it isn't, but it's a story, and I tell it and people can point to it and say, that's my story. Like, it makes their story more poignant, because of the great similarities of emotion and circumstance, and they can share it with friends and say, see, that's what I am going through. That story is my story.

Original blog post: June 22, 2007

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sands UK Tour, Day Fourteen: Exeter to Plymouth

Ten years ago this month, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS UK) sent my solo performance I Hate This (a play without the baby) on a seven date tour of Great Britain.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Salvation Army Hall
Our contact met us at the train station in Plymouth. He took our stage manager and I to the Salvation Army Hall, where we will be performing tomorrow night, our final performance ... and for all I know, my final performance of I Hate This. After this, I got nothin'. It is a great space. I'm really looking forward to this.

Plymouth has a mall named after Sir Francis Drake, Drake Circus. I find that entirely bizarre.

As our contact showed our stage manager and I around the town center (we would meet with the others for lunch) it began to piss down rain, which would continue for the rest of the afternoon. Welcome to the coast.

We hit a Virgin Megastore and an HMV where I picked up Calvin Harris' I Created Disco and the soundtrack to Life On Mars, the DVD of which is unfortunately Region 2.

Lunch was had in Dingle's department store.

As promised, the kids were looked after by everyone else, and my wife and I toured the quay, had a few pints, enjoyed fresher than fresh seafood for dinner (where I forgot where I was and hideously overtipped the waiter) and finished up in the hotel bar where my wife confessed her newfound appreciation for Phil Collins.

Original blog pot: June 21, 2007

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sands UK Tour, Day Thirteen: Lurgan to Exeter

Ten years ago this month, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS UK) sent my solo performance I Hate This (a play without the baby) on a seven date tour of Great Britain.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007 


Nap time at the Pegasus Guest House in Whipton, outside Exeter, and plenty of time on our hands. I had been apprehensive about this day, the only one that involved travel and a performance on the same day in the entire journey. What if something went wrong? What if we were missing something, something were wrong with the tech, I left something behind ... there would be no time to care of of unseen mishaps.

Well. My wife and I went to the Lurgan Public Library to check email, and received an urgent notice from our contact in London that the Exeter show has been cancelled, due to lack of interest. They had only had confirmed reservations for five.

Disappointed? Sure. Maybe more than I expected. We're here, in Exeter (well, Whipton) with nothing to do.

There was a reason we scheduled travel and performance on the same date; we wanted an extra day in Northern Ireland. It was well spent. Our hosts picked us up around 10:30 AM and we took the scenic route along the coast (the Torr Head route) to Giant's Causeway.

Giant's Causeway is this bizarre, unique rock formation along this one, relatively small area of the northern coast. Where the stones have been worn down, it looks like carefully arranged hexagonal boulders have been neatly fit together. Where they are taller they are like great columns. Each stone section is maybe eighteen inches wide.

At different short levels they make for little thrones to sit in. In one area in particular, where there is this section of great, tall pillars all clustered together by the seaside, they contribute to the legend of Finn MacCool, the giant. There was a great bridge, or causeway, across the sea to Scotland. Finn MacCool set across to defeat a giant on the other side - but when he got there, he found the Scottish giant to be much larger than he, so he ran back across, in fear, to tell his wife.

MacCool's wife told him to calm down, dressed him up in a bonnet and gave him a binky and put him in the baby crib. When the Scottish giant came over to fight MacCool, the giantess said, "He's out right now, but don't wake the baby!"

The Scottish giant took one look at the great, hideous baby in the crib, and thought - if that's the baby, how big is the father! In a panic, he ran back across the causeway, tearing up the stones as he went so the monstrous giant, Finn MacCool, could not get at him.

After almost two weeks of urban living, dining and recreating, this day was a blessed departure. And the weather was perfect - we were warned to bring rain jackets and be prepared for great wind and waves, but the sea was calm, the skies were sunny and clear, and it was quite warm. But not too warm, there was a lot of walking.

On the drive into town my wife and I compared notes on the last two cities we'd been to. Birmingham is a lot like Cleveland. It's not a city with the ancient history a lot of the rest of England does, it's an industry town, only the industry dried up decades ago. A lot of people, including some in N.I. spoke disparagingly about Birmingham, but what I saw is a modern city that is trying very hard to become a center of arts and activity, with a number of new shopping centers and entertainment venues.

According to our host, it's only been five years since things have settled down to what you might call normal in Northern Ireland, especially in and around where we were staying, so close to Belfast. The time we spent there wasn't nearly enough to really take in what effect those decades of war have had on the people's psyche, but it can't have been good for business. Driving on the roads (as opposed to say, taking trains, which we have been doing so much of) watching all the farms, the livestock, the people, the wife was reminded of her home in Appalachia.

Our lives being how they are, it is hard to imagine the circumstances where we would be able to return to N.I. Perhaps we will need to make some up.

Original blog post: June 20, 2007

Monday, June 19, 2017

Sands UK Tour, Day Twelve: Lurgan

Ten years ago this month, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS UK) sent my solo performance I Hate This (a play without the baby) on a seven date tour of Great Britain.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Lurgan Town Hall
We had a very fine performance at Lurgan Town Hall yesterday. It was the first old-fashioned "stage" I have performed on here; instead of looking up at the audience, or straight out, I actually had to look down at them.

There were some seventy people in attendance. I have grown used to audiences not laughing, at all, at anything, during the performances this week. Maybe it is because of the language barrier. Maybe it is because of my delivery, who knows.

Last night, however, they were laughers. Not huge, belly-laughers, no one does that, it's not that kind of show. But they did laugh appreciatively. I might make some kind of sweeping observation about the Irish knowing something about dark humor, but, well, I guess I just did.

There was this one woman in the front row, she had these great glasses, seated right in front of the phone. She was cracking up at all the muzak. When "Lonely Boy" came on she was my anchor, she thought that was hysterical and I just smiled at her for several seconds before saying, "I love this song."

PLAY
One of the most interesting questions we received was, "What did you hope to get out of doing this?" One thing that was great was that it was a question we could pass onto our contact, who joined us on stage. He had the chance to share the idea SANDS had for bringing me here, to raise awareness of the issue, and of their organization.

The wife also got to speak about the kind of fact-finding work we have been able to do, hearing other people's stories and making observations about the state of health care in different parts of the country -- ours and theirs.

And for my part, I took it back to the beginning - what did I hope to get out of doing this, meaning writing it. Which was nothing but my own need to tell this story, as a theater artist.

At first, I had no idea that this play would take me to such places. I didn't envision it being used as an educational tool, for nurse and doctors, certainly not to be a touch-point for the parents of other dead children. I wanted to see if I could make my personal story into a good play.

Original blog post: June 19, 2007

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sands UK Tour, Day Eleven: Lurgan

Ten years ago this month, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS UK) sent my solo performance I Hate This (a play without the baby) on a seven date tour of Great Britain.

Monday, 18 June 2007

A beautiful view.
Yesterday was a big, big travel day with no internet at the end of it. We left Birmingham via air to Belfast. I am pleased and amazed at how well the seven of us have been coping, shipping from city to city like this.

Our contacts, a lovely couple, met us at the airport and helped us get situated with the Big Red Van we've rented. Yes, a rental. Yes, I am driving on the left, seated on the right, shifting on the left. The 40 minute drive from Belfast to Lurgan, where I will be performing tonight was quite a thrill. Apparently I only almost got us into an accident twice.

We have been put up in cottages for our extended stay. We are taking the risk and traveling and putting on a performance on the same day on Wednesday so I can have a full day to myself tomorrow, touring Northern Ireland.

At present I ham at the local library to check email and write this. Just after lunch we will drive to Belfast for a radio interview (that's an hour's drive each way) and get home in time for dinner, and the show.

I am only slightly disappointed I don't get to see as much as my fellow travelers, but what I do see I will remember. The cottages were a very thoughtful touch. It's fun, you know, staying in a hotel for a short while, but it's also quite constricting. Dining in restaurants for every meal has begun to wear on the children.

Last night my wife and I got some basics from the market, and we all sat about, cooking, drinking, cleaning (I broke a glass) eating and just relaxing. They even have a DVD built into the set, and a small selection of movies available. We started watching Love, Actually, which is utter shit.

Original blog post: June 18, 2007

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A personal reflection for June 17, 2017.

On this date, ten years ago it was Father’s Day. We were traveling from Birmingham to Lurgan, Northern Ireland by air and the journey from hotel to cottage took most of the day. I did not compose a blog entry on that date, only posted this photo of cute pins the children and their mother got for me.

So this seems as good a time as any to reflect briefly on this exercise. Why re-post blog entries? Would anyone truly have an interest in reading them? What is the point, exactly?

I think the idea occurred to me maybe the day before I started. I realized huh, it’s been ten years since the tour, that’s interesting. And since I don’t feel I have anything new to blog about this month, it would provide “content.”

Quickly, however, I began to regret this decision as I was not really happy with the person I was encountering. I found him anxious, and kind of a jerk. Taking text from the I Hate This Blog (which I stop contributing to six years ago) and posting it here became an exercise in editing, which has its merits. I did not want to be dishonest about my feelings, but I have been able to create written entries which are easier to read.

However, as the tour continued, and as this re-posting project has continued, I have been able to appreciate my mood at that time, and how I began to relax into the journey and the work. I was very anxious in Carlisle, and downright despondent in London. These are reflections of my own mental state, and not of any other individual’s actions or behavior.

As the days progressed and I began to take in how my play was being received, I have been much less disappointed in my own thoughts. I am more open to our hosts, and spend more time talking about them, a team of wonderful volunteers and professionals who were dedicating their lives to the same mission I had, as counselors and companions in grief.

That has been my greatest joy in revisiting these journals in this way. I have had an opportunity to meet them again in my memory, and have been surprised as what strong memories wait there. It all went by so fast, and returning to America I had to get right back to work, and had no time to dwell in that experience.

My recollections on the post-show discussions are remarkable, because I am not sure I have truly read these journals for ten years. Yet, the comments made and stories told by audience members are fresh, vibrant and real. This play was a major focus of my creative life for five years, and using it as a tool not only to assist others in their grief but also understanding my own was a great part of the experience. That’s what the aughts were all about for me.

Happy Father’s Day.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Sands UK Tour, Day Nine: Birmingham

Ten years ago this month, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS UK) sent my solo performance I Hate This (a play without the baby) on a seven date tour of Great Britain.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Post-show discussion.
The weather had turned the day we left London, and continued raining pretty regularly the entire time we were in Lincoln. We took the short train to Nottingham where we discovered our train to Birmingham had been cancelled. All the trains to Birmingham had been cancelled. The tracks had been flooded, or maybe it was just the electric signals. We sat around the station in Nottingham, making calls to our contacts in London and Birmingham, and waiting for the rail situation to change.

We began speculating on a night's stay in Nottingham when they suddenly announced a train would be going through, but by the time we arrived in Birmingham, all other trains had been cancelled. So in that respect, we were lucky. Except the wife had planned on spending the afternoon doing laundry, and now there would be no time, if we could even find a launderette in the city center.

The two main organizers of our Birmingham event joined us at the hotel for some late night libations and I asked if someone couldn't wash my underpants.

The performance today was the end of the local SANDS conference, sharing the new Guidelines. There was a larger percentage of medical health professionals than bereaved parents, or so it seemed, and the Q&A included the first comment I have had on this tour from an offended nurse. She didn't appreciate my presenting only the negative aspects of our time in the hospital. It was a respectful exchange. I think everyone knows my opinion on this subject, the character I am playing the show is who I was at the time, and that's how I felt.

I understand it can be harsh. The play is called I Hate This.

What was unique about this talkback was that not only was my wife joining me, but so was my mother-in-law. As a nurse, as a woman who trains obstetric nurses, and as a bereaved grandparent, she offered a rich point of view to the proceedings.

National SEA LIFE Centre
As a result the discussion with the audience had nothing to do with the history of the play, less to do with our lives since 2001, and so much to do with caregivers, what assistance is available (or not) to parents who have lost children in both the US and the UK, and issues regarding grandparents and other relatives.

It was an intimate gathering, maybe thirty audience members. A lot of them knew each other, and aspects of the discussion were, not so much a debate, but a mutual agreement on certain points regarding patient care and communication. I probably said the least during this talkback than I ever had, and I think that was a very good thing.

In the five-year history of this play, I have never performed it many times in a row. The New York and Minnesota Fringe Festivals were five performances each. And though I have performed this show for hospitals and conferences before, it has never been incorporated something like one help organization's two-week schedule of events.

What this has done for me, and also for my wife, is to really challenge our participation in perinatal bereavement and counseling. The extended dialogue we have participated in through all of these talkbacks has thrown what we have accomplished, and what we still hope to do into some kind of relief. Today was particularly helpful in that regard.

The kids had a good day, we took them to National Sea Life Centre, an aquarium which is so totally geared to kids. There can't be a fish tank without there's a ship's anchor in it, or a statue of a mermaid.

Original blog post: June 16, 2007