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The Genie (Major Attaway) from the lamp sings his own praises. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

My ticket for Aladdin

{Note: None of the performance images are mine, I have used media photos provided.}

When we’re talking about live shows, performance and production can be words to describe the same thing. I recently saw two shows and for one I declared “That was a production!” and for the other, I was moved by the performance. They were equally wonderful and nothing alike. I’ll try to explain.

Tara, my 21-year-old-offspring, loves all things Disney and Broadway. Thus, tickets to Aladdin were an obvious choice for a Christmas present. I did not know anything about the show and did not take the time to look it up.

Consequently, I was totally blown away on Thursday when I saw this show. The creators pulled out all the stops for entertainment. This was the sparkliest, loudest, flashiest, most-colorful, most frequently jaw-dropping, silliest, gaudiest show I have ever seen. The costume changes were constant, and every costume was layered in mesmerizing colours and more rhinestones and sequins than I thought possible to fit on fabric. There were scarves and bangles and turbans and feathers and every single, every single male character wore pointed shoes. At one point, cannons shot metallic glistening streamers over the audience and we sat transfixed, watching them spiral down onto us.

Leaping, turbaned dancers

Golden cave of treasures, where Aladdin (Clinton Greenspan) finds the lamp.

Back up dancers and singers, male and female, supported nearly every scene, and these were the fittest performers I’ve seen in a Broadway show. I could tell because most of them were only about 50% covered in clothing. It was nice to see men objectified for a change. All those glistening six-packs….sigh. They leapt, spun in the air, spun on the ground, flipped and skidded and cartwheeled back and forth.

Aladdin as the Prince, with Jasmine (in Portland played by Lissa deGuzman)

The sets were incredible, in the literal definition of the word. At one point the whole back of the theatre dropped away into a convincing starry night sky…WITH a legit flying carpet that Aladdin and Jasmine sat on and sang A Whole New World to us. The scene inside the cave of treasures, where Aladdin found the lamp, looked like it was made of solid gold. Indeed, every surface shone like metal. This made it particularly splendiferous when the fireworks went off. YES!! Real fireworks inside the theatre!

Genie explains to Aladdin how the three wishes work.

Genie was hilarious, Jasmine was convincingly strong, Aladdin convincingly vulnerable, and Jafar sufficiently evil. We were all glad to see him change from one costume to another in a blink before our eyes like magic, and then just as quickly disappear leaving only a lamp behind, when Jafar foolishly wished to be an all-powerful genie (and therefore had to live in a lamp).

What. A. Show. What a production!!

The set for Tiny Beautiful Things was a cross-section view into a beautiful home that is clearly lived in. (Left to Right: Lisa Renee Pitts, Brian Michael Smith, Dana Green, and Leif Norby)

My ticket for Tiny Beautiful Things

Storytelling took center stage in Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. This play is based on the book, which is about an advice columnist named Sugar, and the letter-writers who contact her and sometimes get responses.

The set was great!! So perfect and beautiful. I wish we were allowed to take photos during performances, so I could have captured just one shot that showed the whole thing. Multiple times during the show I thought how nice it would be to live there. If you look at the kitchen shot above, imagine a small dining table to the right, with a door off stage on the right to the laundry room. On the far left of the photo, you can see two steps leading to a playroom in the back. Imagine that farther to the left, there is a living room with a couch and table, and behind the couch is the front door leading off stage on the left, and at the very back a staircase upstairs, and a door to the basement? beneath the stairs.

Sugar “listens to” one of her letter-writers.

We watched Sugar, a busy mom, as she carried her laptop with her around the house, answering mail (outloud) all day long as she does the laundry, folds clothes, picks up toys, straightens the living room. We also watch as three other actors perform the words of the letter-writers, who are children, people with cancer, or people who are pregnant. Letter writers told their secrets, exposed their fantasies, regretted their choices. Gender, age, and background aren’t visually reflected by the actors, so we had to listen carefully to the words to find out who was speaking.

Sugar didn’t answer everyone. She wore yoga pants and a cardigan, and at one point pulled her long hair back into a sloppy bun while she read the letters. One writer kept submitting the same letter over and over, that said, “WTF. WTF. WTF?” She didn’t answer that one, obviously. Until…. the end.

The way Sugar answered the questions was to tell a story from her own life (taken from true stories of Strayed’s actual life) filled with pain and tragedy, joy and fear and bravery and hope. She connected to the letter-writers by telling what got her through her own similar challenges, and recommended that we be more compassionate, kind, and generous – particularly to ourselves. It was thirty stories told, hers and theirs, linked by the advice column, and a thousand stories told, linked by all the people laughing and crying in the audience. Proof that we were all feeling these stories as our own.

Sugar answers a letter at night, after the day’s chores are done.

Sugar dispenses advice to a letter-writer.

Sugar would usually speak to her laptop as she answered letters, even while the letter-writer was sitting beside her on the couch, speaking to his phone as he typed his question. But when the topic or the connection got more intense, they would turn and face each other, and have a conversation. During one wonderful scene, she brought all the letter-writers into the kitchen with her to help pack school lunches for her kids while she answered a letter.

Live performances get to me more than TV or the movies (and all of these actors have been on TV or in the movies). This show was deeply personal, designed to make the audience reflect, or identify, or consider. Ultimately, this play took up all the parts of us that are dark, acknowledged them, and then made us feel good anyway. It is wonderfully done.

Posing with the storyteller

The Mt. Hood Cherokees invited Robert Lewis to Portland to tell us some Cherokee stories. Miss T and I brought some food to add to the potluck, then pulled up chairs and had three hours of fun. (The event was four hours, but T had a commitment before we could go.)

Mr. Lewis explained that he got into professional storytelling by accident, when he found himself in an emergency situation: with a group of children on a school field trip in which 30 third-graders needed to be kept still and quiet for about 10 minutes. The only thing he could think of was to tell the kids a story his father had told him, about how Coyote put the stars into the sky as a special job for The Creator of Everything.

He works for the Cherokee Nation, sharing and teaching cultural knowledge in the form of storytelling, and also teaches art at Northeastern State University, where he gained his formal education in literature, music, and humanities. He works a lot with kids, and says it is his greatest joy to watch the look on their faces when they “get it.” He told me it was his very first trip to the Pacific Northwest. I offered to take him on a quick tour of Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge, but his schedule allowed only storytelling and travelling: no exploring. I told him that was positively sinful. Next time, he needs to insist on a couple of hours of free time!

Mr. Lewis told stories for an hour and a half, pulling audience members into the center of his performance space. Each character in his story had to be acted by someone from the audience as Lewis narrated, and told each character what to do and what to say. We took turns playing roles such as Opossum, Rabbit, A Beautiful Woman, The Creator of Everything, Bullfrog, Panther, Alligator, and Bear.

Each story had a lesson, of course. We learned why Rabbit and Opossum aren’t friends anymore, how Rabbit got big ears because he already has knowledge,where the first Cherokee clay pot came from, how Thunder is a Mighty Warrior, how Woodpeckers came to be, how the Stars got into the sky, why Opossum has no hair on his tail, how Rabbit’s song is so powerful he sings it from his heart, and even why you shouldn’t do what everyone else is doing just because they’re doing it!

Then it was time to eat. Mr. Lewis blessed the meal and we invited the guest of honor and elders to take their food first. Then we began to eat from the tables piled with goodies, as always. When we were finished eating, Lewis told stories for another half an hour. Then he had to jump in his rental car and zoom off to Eugene to tell stories to the central Oregon Indians!

I was proud to see my girl eagerly anticipate the event for the last two weeks, and then attend with me, fully committed. Once there, Lewis recognized her willingness right away and pulled her twice onto the floor to participate. I am hoping to continue to gift some of our Indian heritage to my child.

Typical Portland June

In my previous life I was a Hydrometeorological Technician for the National Weather Service (NWS), a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under the Department of Commerce. Our first year of training focused mainly on teaching us to correctly identify who we worked for and to correctly spell our position title.

After 11 years, I left the Weather Service in 2003 to go to school. Prior to the NWS I spent 4 years in Air Force meteorology during the time of the first Gulf War. One of the things I miss the most about 15 years of 24-hour-a-day weather operations is knowing precisely where my community stands in relation to typical climatology. You know, ‘has it been hotter than usual?’ ‘have we ever had snow in June?’ ‘how does yesterday’s rainfall compare to typical spring weather?’ When your job is meteorology, you just know this stuff. It’s reinforced every time you step into the office, and every time you answer someone’s question on the phone, and with nearly every report you compose and broadcast.

Hang in there, little soggy carrots!


People at my current work (VA – not NWS) have been talking about the rain, of course. It has been raining a lot. Yes, it’s Portland, and we’ve all grown webbed toes to accommodate our damp climate, but it has been depressing lately to have so much rain this close to summer (what we fondly like to think of as a time of “warmth and sunshine”). Forget about yard work the last six weeks – my garden has standing water, and my strawberries are rotting on the vine. I can’t mow the grass when my feet go “scooosh! scoosh! schoosh!” through the swampland of my lawn.

In the elevator Friday, I heard from coworkers that we’ve already broken the rainfall record for June, in addition to what I’ve heard several times from them about a record rainfall for May. I do NOT pipe up that I know weather in the midst of a weather conversation. That’s asking for trouble. In my past weather life I was targeted for the public’s general unhappiness with the weather situation. Most people would just accuse me as a representative of all the faults of weather prediction in the world; the kinder people would disguise their disgust in impossibly pointed questions like, “The forecast last Fall in the second week of November was for rain and 36 degrees, but there was freezing rain on the Interstate and people DIED. Why wasn’t there a warning about the freezing rain? In this day and age, with our technology, it’s hard to believe forecasters still get it so wrong.” You see my point. So on the elevator, I said nothing.


Curious about the facts of record rainfall which are very interesting to me, I researched local NWS climatology this morning and found the truth: there was no record May rainfall in Portland, and no record June rainfall in Portland. Not even close. What the hey?!!?

This is a fascinating phenomena that happens universally with people in my experience. They take a piece of weather information, and redefine it in their heads in a way that meets their expectations and assumptions, and then start talking about it till it becomes fact. A common example is when the forecast is for a 20% chance of rain, say, and the human receiving the information hears: RAIN. In the weather checkbox in their head, Rain gets checked. Then when there is no rain, they are puzzled, angry, disappointed, and feel as though the forecast is untrustworthy. Read accurately, the forecast described solid odds for a dry day, and was correct.

Here’s my theory about office gossip last week: there were a couple of days in May with record rainfall for the day. This happened several times in cities across Oregon. People drew upon some key items from their mental data collection: lots of rainfall out the window, the word ‘record’ on the TV weather, we live in Portland, it’s the month of May… and it came out as “Record rainfall for the month of May in Portland.” Several people came up with the same thing, and when it was spoken at work from independent sources, it solidified into fact and was repeated.

I could give them more credit. Maybe one of our TV weather forecasters said there was record rainfall in May and June. I don’t think so. TV weather sources wouldn’t likely be different from NWS weather by over an inch of rainfall.

There is very awesome weather climatology information upon which to base a misconception. For example, by the 3rd of June here in Portland, we had surpassed our June average rainfall for the month! That’s really remarkable!! Can’t we talk about how cool the truth is, without turning it into “We have already broken the June record.”

Humans have a spiritual need to be a part of the greater experience. We oh, so, want to say, “I was there when…” Since weather is a perpetual point of interest, rehashed for generations, we know that to place ourselves significantly within a timeline of weather high points will increase our chance to attain a mild level of fame and even immortality.

Additionally, many of us are incessantly intrigued with the possibility of outsmarting Mother Nature. It is the appeal of the gamble, the puzzle, the mystery of weather. It is exciting to say that with the technology of the 21st century, humans are still humbled by weather. We cannot predict with consistent accuracy beyond 36 hours, and yet we persist in stamping our names and our company’s logos onto “Ten Day Forecasts.” Forecasters are befuddled in the face of a weather anomaly today as much as Benjamin Franklin was in the early days of white men in America. With centuries of mistakes, we can’t resist the temptation to keep trying to outguess the weather-guesser.

And then there is the telling of the human narrative, that -let’s be honest- I do as much as anyone else. I love the human capacity for storytelling. It is a beauty and a gift.

One of my many guises

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