We found our seats and stared up at the midnight blue ceiling canopying over us with tiny "star light" twinkling behind the subtly projected moving clouds. Later when we looked at the house from the stage you could see the silhouette of turrets giving the illusion of the whole auditorium being within thick walls of an open roofed palatial courtyard somewhere at the foot of the Atlas mountains. It really was something to see. And the audience, more than matched up to their surroundings. Not since the opening night of The Producers back in Drury Lane theatre in London, October 2004 have I heard roars like these. The 5,000 seat house echoed with laughter. The moments that in other places have provoked a slight wry sigh of a giggle were treated to belly laughs here. When Putting on The Ritz began it almost stopped the show. That was before any of the tricks. And I can be sure the whole audience was not made up of Mel Brook's die hard fans, who are usually the folks who make the most noise at this point, being as it is, a highlight of the original black and white movie. This was something else. By the time the creature is performing the shadow routine it felt like everyone was ready to get up and dance. I always delight in the way every audience, be it the slightly sardonic Chicago crowd or the reserved hoy poly of the DC area always let the guard down at this point in the show. You can be wordy as you like, witty as you please, but give a crowd a simple illusion, a good oldy and everyone is a kid again. I'm talking about the bit where the monster is alone centre stage, giving it some welly with the old tap shoes, and behind him, on a white cyclorama is his "shadow". The shadow is actually one of the dancers performing in front of a light to give him great size. The gag comes when the shadow flashes out some extra funky steps when the monster has stopped. That is it. Just pure and simple theatre stuff. We lap it up. The whole build up of the five minute routine means that when it is time for the finale, a kick line of the whole company, the audience is about ready to jump out of their seats. The kick line, in itself is no where near spectacular. In fact the kicks don't even reach 45 degrees which, for the limber dancers would be like us mere mortals simply walking. Every week I have watched the show, this is undoubetedly the point when the audience comes alive, and where I always have my love of theatre re-affirmed. There is something about the simplicity of this moment that thrills me. The actors, all the company together, the audience now also performing as one, gives me a renewed faith in humanity. Its just a show I hear you say, but for me, in that moment, there is a wonderful sense of connection and that is really what it is all about isn't it? What a rare fleeting moment - in this case about 8 bars or less - that always is, but for me it comes close to what leaders of any kind of organisation yearn for, be it church, school, government, home. It is quite simply a great achievement for a large group of people to be present in the same present even if for a few seconds. A bit like when you're team scores a point, except in this case there is no opponent, other than reality perhaps. A shadow play, a kick line, top hats, canes, song and dance folk. I am living the vaudevillian dream my friends, without doing much of the hard graft I might add, save a few written musings from the illuminating stance of the outsider, privy to adventures thrown our way.
The following monday, having, almost, come back down to earth from our weekend foray, and not having found enough time to corner Bernard, the stage door man, to extracate precise details of the numerous ghostly goings on in that place, it was time for us to hit the road. We passed the "World Changers Ministries" bus along the way, and one of the final fleeting images I will remember of that airport in Atlanta is being in a bathroom stall and a little ballet pumped foot finding its way into my peripheral. On top of her foot the word Michael was tatooed in elegant script. There's an upside of the whole short door thing I spose. I spent the next five munites wondering on that story, underscored by the cheery attendant who was singing If You're Happy and You Know It with the lilt of someone idling away summer sun on a picnic'd meadow. Off into the skies again leaving forest surrounded Atlanta far behind us down there somewhere. We managed this trip without any sickness incidences which was a treat. Getting rather blase we took Sam onto our laps for a little while just in time for him to knock over a full glass of icy water down onto my seat to freeze my derrière. I arrived in Detroit looking like I had an incontinence problem. Pushing the stroller anyone might have thought it was a product of a difficult birth. Through the trippy underworld of Detroit's uber modern airport. The moving walkway to another terminal took us under a glass lined white tunnel onto which a spectrum of coloured lights was projected undulating passengers through their memories of the womb into the light at the end. A voice spoke from an echoey distance, the sort you hear in portals in sci fi movies. Cory and I were open mouthed and instantly calmed from our travel day raised shoulders, if a little surprised. Sam couldn't wait to reach the end. Hey ho. I guess it was a big kid thing.
The flight that followed for Lansing will always be rated as one of my favourites. Not only because it was in one of those small jets, the ones not even I can stand up straight in, but mostly because it lasted all of, well, 16 minutes. That really is my kind of flight. Boyo fell asleep moments before take off and stayed in that blissful state of repose through putting him into a stroller to baggage claim and then into the car seat all the way up the stairs of our new home. He woke just in time for us being ready to head out for dinner. Monty, who arrived to pick us up, a proud local took the time to take us on a quick detour of the university campus' "ancient" buildings as he called them (circa 1890s), which is at the heart of this town. The renowned Michigan state university doubles the town's population of around 40,000 whilst school is in session. I went to a well respected university but I have never seen anything on this scale in my life. The school has a 70,000 stadium on campus next to a full size hockey rink. The beautiful old buildings did fill me with a yearning for learning I have to say. Students jogged by us, others biking in the gentle snow flurry. We reached a junction where "Sparty" the spartan stands proudly, his chest puffed his gaze up towards new horizons. Apparently during the football matches especially when this university is playing its arch rival University of Michigan students take it in shifts to guard him for fear of him being deficated with the opponents colours. The juxtaposition of the modernity of the university's architecture with the ancient emblem they have of the Spartan struck me. The sprawling campus was totally unexpected and a world away from sunny Atlanta. On we drove, past a few factories that have been redeveloped into luxury lofts, passed homes and snow dusted tree lined streets to our little complex of newly built apartment blocks. Not disimilar to the modern developments that are mushrooming around London these days. Sam is delighted with having his own big little room.
First impressions of the place did not immediately lead us to believe there would be a cosy, and un-Starbucked coffee shop just around the corner in the strip mall (no its not that kind of place Brits) flanked by a Charity Poker Club (?), Dance studio, Sushi haunt and Sultan's - a "Medittarranean" bakery and diner, where we ate a years worth of garlic for lunch today. For a week's stay could you possibly need anything more I ask you? Especially when you have no car and no access to busses or trains come to think of it. Off we wrapped ourselves up, travel weary but filled with our now weekly excitement of arrival into a new place, where expectations are always low and any find is always welcomed. Turning a chilly corner we pop into Sansu and head for the "traditional" tables. We sit, with the illusion of being on the floor. In actual fact the floor has been raised and we are sat in all intents and purposes as if on a normal chair. It feel like you are being Japanese without the back ache. Utter delight on boys face, topped off by kind, (but severly back ache'd) waitress who gave him children's chop sticks. Think normal chopsticks with a little rolled up paper and elastic at the top to join them for japanese eating training. The sushi rolls were delicious if cut a little on the gargantuan side. Not a first date place. Cory and I took it in turns to look like we had a whole chipmunk in our mouths. We ate rice out of a oven heated stone bowl, topped with different roes and seaweed goodness. Sammy grappled and then succeed to down his cucumber sushi roll and edamame with his tongs (if we were Japanese that sentence would not sound nearly half as pretentious by the way) He insisted on eating his breakfast (left over rice) and dinner (mashed potatoes with beans) with them. On the video I took, you can't make out the elastic so it looks like he is managing it completely on his own. A source of never ending hilarity to daddy and me. Sort of excruciating to watch him eat one bean at a time granted, but I look on it as a double dose of Patience training. For the both of us. Amazing what patience a three year ld can find when doing something off his own will isn't it?! I spose its the same perseverance used to harrang parents when in a particularly attention starved (god forbid!) moment.
When I unpacked our shopping this afternoon I realised I had misread a price tag. Please don't tell Cory, he is forever nagging me to be more precise when it comes to funds - incoming and outgoing. I have a tendency to be round up or down as it were, at least that's his version. Turns out the $2 can of British Heinz Baked Beans was actually a $7.99 can. That'll learn me for buying foreign goods. At home I'll pay all of, about 80cents. The trip was made blog worthy by our driver from Tenessee who spent most of the ride to the store on the phone getting directions to where were going and most of the ride back telling us how his twin brother and he drover 240 miles out of their way when they went back home for a trip some years ago, "Never mattered Ok? We had no place to be going ok?" Over the course of our, somewhat elongated journey, we found out that he runs three different business and likes to lie about his age to girlfriends. "I say I'm 55, they don't think nothin'. I'm 77. No mater ok? Only thing, when they know you have some money, it's asking for loans here and there, a car breaks, then a washing machine needs fixing. You know the sort of thing ok? Always asking for something ok?" Everything was indeed "ok" apart from the small detail of him not knowing where he was going. His being somewhat lacking in the hearing department didn't bother us as much as it did Sam as he desperately called out "excuse me?" waiting patiently for an answer before he began his questioning. I enjoyed the - loud - country music he was playing on the radio, a lively back drop to the snowy Michigonian church dotted landscape. We drive by our turning. Cory asks him to turn back please and then cracks up into hysterical laughter. "Where were you going anyway?" he asks. Our Tenessean answers that he doesn't know exactly but "Figured you would tell me when to turn and like, ok?" Little had he realised we had been here for all of, what, 20 hours and most of those in the dark. He sits in the car whilst we unload our shopping in the light snow shower, just as he did at the supermarket earlier.
Quick pause here whilst I take half sleep walking boy to toilet.......
Ok I'm back. And there we have it. Our first day in chilly East Lansing, a world away from its Sussex sea side British counterpart. Poker night is planned for tomorrow. The troupe will be partying with the local hoy poloy, sorry theatre donors, later tonight. I will get back to etching away my novel and generally spreading ourselves out to make our little place feel like a home. For five days at least.