Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve

Greg and I got a babysitter and went out to celebrate New Year's Eve in Atlanta, at the Peach Drop!
Happy 2013 everyone!


Center for Puppetry Arts, Part 2

On our last day in Atlanta, we had a real treat, re-visiting the Center for Puppetry Arts, just the 5 of us.  It was a quiet, mostly-closed day at the Center, and we were given an elaborate, personal, 2-hour tour by the Center's Education Director, who we had recently shown around the backstage of Totem.  Aretta was engaging and fun and really showed us all of the workings of the Center - from crawling around the backstage of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer theater, to really exploring the museum, to their interactive distance-learning labs, and even seeing the outside storage areas and the offices.  (which are, as they should be in a Puppetry Center, ridiculously colorful and fun.)

We all learned so much ... from the strangeness of the ancient Asian puppeteers (Water puppets  [pictured right] ? Studying for 10 years to learn to move a puppet's hands?) to the magic of Jim Henson, from the variety of puppet types (rod puppets. marionettes. shadow puppets. hand puppets) to the upper-body strength needed by the puppeteers manipulating them.

All of us left with a new appreciation for this art form, and gratitude to Aretta, and Jeff, and everyone at the Center, for building connections with us at Totem.  

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Totem artist profiles - Joe Putignano

Joe Putignano, age 35, is an American acrobat and the original Crystal Man character in Totem.  But he is leaving us at the end of this city!  And after these 3 intense touring years with Totem, I wanted to be sure to write about him before he moves on.

This will be a different sort of Artist Profile.  I don't need to write Joe's biography - it is extensively chronicled in dozens of media outlets, for a few reasons.  In Joe's past, he was a gymnastics star, and then he sank into a debilitating drug addiction.  He has chronicled his story, including a comeback as a fantastic artist, in an upcoming book, Acrobaddict: A Contortionist's Heroin Romance.  And as he leaves Totem, CNN will begin a year-long story on him, following his planned shoulder surgery, recovery, and transition into a new life.  He's going back to school, to study medicine.  
In the meantime, you can find more about Joe at the following links:


What I want to say about Joe is that he has been a great friend to Greg in these last three years.  As two American artists with dark, cynical senses of humor, they have laughed and supported each other through times of stress and doubt.  Greg will feel his absence on tour acutely.

I asked Joe what the best part of his work with Totem has been.  He said that it has taught him to harness discipline and persistence.  He would never have been able to cultivate the kind of dedication, and relentless focus, that he has now, without being a part of this company.  These skills will serve him well for the rest of his life.

Joe, you will be missed on Totem, and you'll be a part of its story forever.  

Friday, December 28, 2012


A couple of days ago, as we were packing our suitcases, I said to my Mom, "I'm ready to leave this city."  She said, "You always are."  This gave me pause.  Am I really always ready to move to the next tour stop?  And if so, what does that mean about my adaptation to gypsy life (and how will it be when I eventually settle back down?)

I don't think it's 100% true.  There have been a few cities along the way - notably, San Francisco and Boston - that I did not feel ready to leave behind.  In these places I had family connections, activities for the children, an interesting urban environment, and a very walk-able, public-transit-able lifestyle.  I wished we could have stayed longer.

But it's accurate to say that for many of our cities (15? 16? I have lost count), I am counting the days long before our departure.  The things that irritate me about any particular place - poor grocery shopping choices, long commutes, icky weather, isolation, etc. - all just loom up in my mind as I approach our departure.  "Last time I have to make this trek!" I think with satisfaction.  It's usually a constructive attitude to have - always looking forward to what's coming next.

It does make me wonder, though, what life will be like when we are done touring.  When the frustrations of our permanent home (poor grocery shopping choices, long commutes, etc.) will not be escapable.  There will be no countdown, and I'll have to get better at accepting whatever is less-than-perfect.  I imagine that there will be many, many things.

For now, I will embrace the touring mentality, and enjoy the fact that we have only three more days of cold Atlanta before we go to sunny Miami!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas in Atlanta

Our Christmas in Atlanta, with handmade stockings, paper chains and Star Wars Snowflakes.

Kids wearing their "life is good" shirts from Aunt Becky.

We did the Christmas 5k Race with the Totem Running Club.

Had the best evening ever at Totem's party at the Georgian Terrace on Christmas Eve!

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the kids spent time with Greg, and their Grandma Terry and Grandpa Ron, baking cookies, playing chess, building Legos and robots and glow toys.  We also got to go to a private screening of "Worlds Away 3D", Cirque du Soleil's new movie.

The day after Christmas, we took the kids out to Stone Mountain for holiday festivities.  It was a little too cold for comfort - temperatures have been in the 30s and 40s here, and windy - but we still managed to enjoy shows, a train ride, the Great Barn playhouse, mini-golf and a little parade.  You can see the Confederate Memorial Carving in the mountain behind us.

Now, it's time to pack up the decorations, and everything else in the apartment - Luggage Day is tomorrow, and we leave for Miami in a few days.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Nutcracker

At last, I had the opportunity to take the kids to see the real Nutcracker ballet, here in Atlanta.  We are living across the street from the Fox Theatre, Atlanta's premier performance venue.  For the last two months we've watched from our window as dressed-up audience members go in and out.  Tonight was finally our turn!

It really is an amazing theater.  Originally a Yaarab Temple Shrine Mosque, and then a movie palace, it is an opulently decorated building, inside and outside.  Its architecture and interior decor is described as "Moorish", "Egyptian", and "trompe l'oeil".  It is a feast for the eyes, every surface embroidered, gilded, or sparkling with rhinestones.  

The ballet itself was fairly enjoyable.  We bought the cheap tickets (still $45 each!), which meant the kids had to strain a bit for a good view over people's heads.  The production was very well done, the ballerinas were lovely.  It occurred to me though that the audience seemed most impressed when the dancers did something slightly acrobatic.  And I thought, well if that's what people want to see, why aren't we all at the circus??  ...ballet as an art form mystifies me a bit.  It seems like every little girl wants to take ballet classes at some point, presumably for the "prettiness" factor.  But when watching ballet, it seems so repetitive to me, the same types of steps in precisely the same ways; the same body types, the same movement qualities, the same sequences.  At least the Nutcracker livens things up a bit with over-the-top costumes.  I feel a bit like a rube, in my inability to really appreciate ballet (like many "fine" art forms) - but at least I can be honest about what I like.  I truly enjoyed the little cartwheeling girls in the Russian dance, the elaborate play-acting in the Christmas party scene, and the small magic illusions integrated into the show.  The most beautiful dancing was done by the Arabian pas de deux, a husband-and-wife partnership (Pedro Gamino and Abigail Tan-Gamino) who had exquisite onstage chemistry and were the most acrobatic of the dancers. 

Overall I am so glad we went.  It's one of those things I've always wanted to do with my kids, and they loved it.  Even Baz... when we were getting ready to go he disappeared into his room, re-emerging in his one good button-down shirt, dress pants, dress shoes and a tie.  He had a slight qualm about going to the ballet ... worried it was a "girl" thing, I think, but during the day I was able to reassure him that no, it was simply going to be an awesome show.  As much as any of us, Baz loves live performances, and was especially able to immerse himself in the Act 1 scenes.  He got a little bored during the endless dances of Act 2, but still behaved himself passably well. 

After the show, simply crossing the street and going into our elegant lobby felt glamorous.  The girls grand-jeted all over the apartment before we could settle them into bed. 

While looking up information on the Fox Theatre tonight, I came across one particularly odd story.  Apparently there is a man named Joe Patten who they call the "Phantom of the Fox".  He has a lifetime lease on a posh apartment inside the Fox Theatre, where he has served numerous roles over the years in caretaking and preservation.  Two years ago they tried to kick him out, and lawsuits ensued, but apparently all is OK now and he's back to living his eccentric life. 

I look across the street at the upper windows of the theater, wondering if any of those windows are his. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Things I love about the Totem school

Today's science lesson was taught by Phil, the heating and cooling technician, who walked the kids around the site showing them how heating ducts work.

Their music class (playing recorders) is being taught by Annette, one of Totem's musicians, who is an international specialist in recorder techniques.

Phys Ed for the last two months (trampoline) has been taught by Zhan Yordanov, a Russian bar flyer and a world champion trampolinist.

They've spent time painting shoes in the costume department, learning about Totem's rigging at the Royal Albert Hall, and doing cooking projects in the kitchen.

Their field trips these past few months have included kayaking on the Charles River in Boston, wrapping Christmas presents at the Salvation Army in Atlanta, and the visiting the National Spy Museum in Washington, DC.

While I know that all schools have great assembly programs brought in, and exciting field trips, I feel like our school does an excellent job of utilizing the unique talents and skills of our extended touring family, and also delving into the cities we're visiting.

And as far as academics...

At the ages of 8 and 9, Baz and Ayla are getting the hang of French verb conjugations.  (they both speak French now quite comfortably, but it's time to clean up the grammar)

Their teachers are tough on them.  No easy A's are given, and Baz received his first F on a test this past month, teaching him a valuable lesson about studying.  The teachers are also no-nonsense about behavior, and we get reports if they are disorganized, distractable, or inconsiderate.  

There is very little wasted time in their school days.  They are never lost in the crowd or slipping through the cracks.  In their individualized curricula, they are measured against themselves, and are continually nudged to do better.

They eat lunch every day (for free of course) in Totem's kitchen, and must eat protein, vegetables and grains at every meal.  Though they choose white rice, raw carrots and deli turkey a bit too often, this is way better than what they would be eating in any other school.  And everyone else around them partakes of the delicious, healthy variety of foods offered each day - a great influence.

We are not constantly hearing about budget cuts, staffing cuts and limited resources.  Our kids have the supplies they need (and we are almost never asked to contribute money), and the personnel of the tour close at hand.

No school environment is perfect.  I sorely miss some things about larger schools - extracurricular activities and peer groups, mainly.   But Totem has done a great job building its school program, and we consider ourselves incredibly lucky.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Miscellaneous Atlanta

I attended my first real Russian dinner party last week.  Olga prepared a dozen different Russian dishes, in celebration of her own birthday, and we sat around the table, talking and eating and drinking, for at least 4 hours, while the children were left to fend for themselves in another room.  The food was difficult for me - cold fish, salted cucumbers - but the conversation was animated and interesting.  All of the Russians tell me that this is how they celebrate holidays and special occasions in Russian, in the proper way.

When you've been reading books inside for hours on a rainy day, you have to change it up a little.

Nastia and I were invited this week to visit In Flight Gymnastics, a small gymnastics school in Decatur which also has a circus arts program.  So, we brought all the kids one evening after school, and had a couple of hours of playtime.  The In Flight students are a wonderful group of girls, working hard for a recital this weekend.  They were eager to show off their acrobatic and aerial routines.  The Totem kids, in the meantime, were delighted to have things like balance beams and aerial hoops to play on.

A note about art.  One of the nicest things about changing apartments every couple of months is that there is always new wall art.  Admittedly, most of the time the choices are fairly bland and uninspired.  But, if you're tired of looking at something on the wall, the view will soon change.  The Georgian Terrace has some of the best artwork that I've seen in our travels.  I'm particularly fond of this one, in our hallway.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Baz Day

Monday was, according to Baz, "the best day ever".  We spent the morning doing a community service project with Totem, clambering around in a creek here in Grove Park, with trash bags and wading boots and gloves, pulling out all kinds of litter.  For the kids it was like a scavenger hunt.  Other people on the project built a fence around a community garden (having a team of skilled carpenters is nice) and spread mulch around trees.

From there, it was off to the Legoland Discovery Center Atlanta.  A friend of ours, Jimmy Robertson, works there, and we really enjoyed seeing him and exploring the place.  While the Legoland Discovery Centers aren't as elaborate as the theme parks, there is still a lot to see and do there.  Baz and Greg busied themselves making a tower taller than any of the other towers, for the Earthquake Table.  (the spire at the top did not survive the earthquake, but the rest of it did.)

Baz is a Lego fanatic.  Though the rest of us had a fine time at Legoland, I think it was his personal slice of heaven.

To complete the perfection of Baz's day, we got Chinese food for dinner and rented Return of the Jedi.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sky Gym

Today a group from Totem paid a visit to Sky Gym here in Atlanta.  It's an aerial school, recently opened in a new, independent location, and run by aerialist Amber Monson.  She offered an introductory fabric class to Totem employees and Official Accompanying Members, and then an Open Gym time.  About 10 of us went to the school and had a very nice afternoon.  For the new students, the hour was working with aerial fabrics almost entirely in knots - Amber has created an extensive curriculum of work with knots, to empower and strengthen beginner-level students.  And for the second hour, those of us with more experience played around.

The space is very nice - with high ceilings and trusses at 20', there is space to hang numerous silks, and a separate room specifically for aerial yoga.  Silks are Sky Gym's specialty, though they have expanded a bit into static trapeze, rope, and lyra.

I always enjoy visiting other schools and learning about their development, their systems, and their creators.  Today was no exception.  Amber has a solid grasp of aerial technique, a good rigging system (here I photographed her up on the truss - this is how she changes over the rigging!), a great teaching persona and business smarts.
She has spent a lot of energy and time considering non-traditional students - people looking to get strong, who are not natural aerialists.  And she has created classes that handle these people's needs very well.

And I was so glad to get the Totemites out to play on some aerial equipment!  A foreshadowing, of course, of our upcoming time in Philadelphia.  :)  

This last photo is on a fun apparatus they have in one corner of the studio - it's a free-standing aerial hoop, designed for performance events where rigging isn't possible.  Cool!

Saturday, December 1, 2012


I had to post this series of photos.  Because can't you just see where this is going?

Immediately after that last photo, the two littlest girls at the end toppled right off, landing in a pile of wails and sobs.   
And I'm sure there are some valuable lessons learned here.  Morals?  Physics?