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Posts Tagged ‘The Wizard of Oz’

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Chino and me. Spring 2012, Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank, NJ.

Last year around this time I worked with an actor who was better motivated than anyone I have ever worked with. And it wasn’t by the director’s powerful encouragement, or by his own ego, or by audience accolades. He was motivated by his very favorite thing to eat.

His name was Pacino, but I called him Chino (or ‘meshuganah’, as apt a nickname for this actor as any), and there he is above. The show was The Wizard of Oz, and I had precisely one job: Him. Specifically, getting him on stage for all of his cues, receiving him when he came off stage, and keeping him safe and happy in the meantime. To do this I armed myself with fattening little dog treats which I sometimes called Scooby snacks*, and which he loved to absolute distraction. Sometimes before a show I’d entertain the humans by holding a treat a foot above his head, moving it in a circle and saying, “Pirouette!’ He would twirl on his furry little back legs and then I’d give him the treat. He could smell them in my jeans pocket and shamelessly scratched at my jeans with both paws to try to unearth more.

Right before a cue I’d have him sniff and lick at the treat I had tightly in my fingers. He’d become 100% focused on it. When I heard the cue, I’d throw the treat across the deck and let him go. He would chase the treat and catch it, Dorothy would pick him up, and we were golden. When he came off to me, I’d give him another one. My goal was to get him used to a routine so he would trust me and so he’d keep doing what I needed him to do. He was always good for it. Always.

When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, treats obviously have the potential to be our undoing. Given Chino’s undying devotion to his Scooby snacks, it was no different for him. His owner told me I needed to be judicious in giving him snacks because he needed to lose a pound. (When you only weigh nine pounds, every ounce counts.)**

But the other side of Kryptonite is power.*** Wisely harnessed, really incredible treats—including food—can get us from point A to point B. And since by saying that I’ve already dragged political correctness to the curb with the recycling bins, I’m going to emphasize again: It’s okay to use treats, food or otherwise, for motivation as long as they’re administered with care. Here’s how:

1) Treat yourself on a regular basis. You’ll be happier and have fewer cravings this way, I promise. Yes, eat right most of the time; yes, get your body moving; yes, avoid Testarossa shopping if you can’t afford toothpaste. But don’t deprive yourself of good things, in good doses. Life is supposed to be fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

2) Reread those last two sentences and put them on sticky notes all over your house, your car and your Burmese cat if necessary.

3) Create a list of extra-special treats that can help you get past a goal. Chino’s job was very physical; he worked hard for those Scooby snacks. He was twirled around while sitting in a basket, handled by eight actors along with me, and worked more than a dozen shows. Think about what you have to hurdle over next Tuesday, and make the treat fit the crime.

4) Give yourself another treat after you’ve slain the witch. And make it good, and don’t apologize. Earn your own trust. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Gratuitous personal story: I’m looking for a full-time salary and wanted to answer an ad yesterday. I knew baking the below would be the stick of firecracker in my back pocket I needed to do it. So I baked it, and it was: hot homemade cornbread topped with my current darling, Irish butter. We have lovely little dalliances a few times a week. Then we give each other a chance to miss each other. I don’t believe in rushing romance.

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*Someone at Wizard of Oz told me this was actually a sly drug reference from the mid-1960s TV show. It’s safe to say Chino really was addicted to his Scooby snacks, though, so it turned out to be a pretty accurate choice of words.

**Once I accidentally dropped his Tupperware container of treats right in front of him, and he went after them like a S-400 anti-ballistic missile. Not a shining moment in my backstage career.

***’High levels of green Kryptonite radiation can cause normal humans to mutate and acquire superhuman abilities.’ –Wikipedia FTW, baby.

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The last few days have been busy ones for me, as they always are this time of year. I’ve taken over a three-generation tradition of baking and delivering Easter bread, begun by my grandmother.

I make six chocolate cinnamon babkas and distribute them across the county to friends and family. When the last bread is delivered and everyone’s mouths—my own included—are sticky from eating slice after slice of this glorious stuff, I rest. This year I’m resting and reflecting.

It’s been a tumultuous year for me between this Easter and last. Lots of loss, I don’t mind saying. Got divorced. Got hit by a car. Had to move two weeks after being hit by a car, which was all kinds of fun. I lost friends whom I thought would be permanent fixtures in my life.

There were gains as well, like writing and editing for a food magazine I’ve always wanted to work with, and there were other gains which, oddly, I realized because of the losses. After divorcing I learned I was stronger than I thought. After the accident that resulted in a concussion and a broken clavicle, I learned I was even stronger. And some of the new friends I met this year came into my life, I think, to teach me exactly what kind of people I want around me, what really good friends are, and do. Lemonade out of lemons, I suppose.

In my chocolate-laced stupor, feet up, I started thinking about the shape in which I make the breads. I’m an amateur folklorist, with a special interest in holiday lore, and realized how often the circle or spiral features in symbolism throughout the year. It’s usually at the equinox, as the sunlight weakens or strengthens.

Think about Rosh Ha’Shana, the start of the new Jewish year in the fall, when challah is made in the shape of a circle or spiral. Halloween, or Samhain, marks the end of the pagan year. It was then that buns called soul cakes were shaped into spirals and distributed from door to door. The recipients were the earliest trick-or-treaters. Think about Christmastime, and how Christians adapted the wreath from pagan tradition. Have you ever wondered why wreaths are round? It’s because they, like the challah and soul cakes, are meant to show the turn of the year, the assurance—maybe reassurance is a better word—that things keep moving. That life keeps moving. It’s one of the intractable facts of life, the reality of constant beginnings and endings, and it’s one we reinforce for ourselves again and again by shaping stuff into circles. What goes up must come down, and vice versa. Expect it.

When I was growing up, the breads my dad, sister and I made for Easter were braided and made into a circle. Later, when I took over the baking and found the babka recipe I now use, it called for the dough to be baked in a loaf pan, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. The dough gets rolled out, scattered with chocolate, butter, cinnamon and sugar, rolled up, twisted…and then coiled into a spiral. And it’s not just because I grew up with it that way. It’s because life’s precarious. I need to see that spiral.

Maybe The Wizard of Oz offers the best example. Do you remember what the very start of the yellow brick road looked like? Exactly. It’s good to have reassurances from time to time, during the holidays or whenever. We’re all in Dorothy’s red shoes.

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