You’ve changed my life. In researching what I wanted to write you I went back and reread every single one of our emails. I specifically focused on our time working together on “Boneyard Prayer” for Redmoon Theater and I realized you changed so many areas of my life. And I have not held the weight of this in my mind in a manner of which I should have. I have not expressed this to you in an appropriate manner. I wrote you a birthday post years back. I always thanked you for hiring me. But no. We’re about to take a deep dive into our history because Frank, you changed my life. Boneyard Prayer changed my life.
In February of 2008, well into our rehearsal process, you wrote this quote about the show, “I left saying to Sue, my lovely wife, I think I saw the glimpse of the show today- the “love song for drunks and ghosts”
We first met in December of 2007 when Caitlin Montanye Parrish hired me as a stage manager for “Boneyard Prayer.” We had a powerhouse team which included a production team of people like, Seth Bockley, Vanessa Sterling, Charles Kim, Ralph Sledge, John Horan, Caitlin Parrish and you!
Caitlin reminded me of this in June when I asked my friends to share how we each met. What stood out to me was when she wrote, “…And you saved my ass. No one else could have handled Frank.” I thought that was hilarious. My immediate response as you see below was, “I LOVE working with Frank.” BUT in going back through our email correspondence, I see our time together was an entire fucking journey. For those reading, this is going to be a long one. Brace yourselves. This man matters.
We have to go back to when I was in college Frank and I saw you perform at “Sink, Sank, Sunk.” I don’t remember the year but I do know I was a kid in college dreaming big. I had no idea at the time how my life would manifest but I saw the spectacle you all created, the genius behind the show, the production value and was in awe. I thought that day, “When I grow up, I want to work for Redmoon.” I thought “growing up” meant when I was 45 years old and an established theater person with awards and accolades, then I just might be “good enough” to work with you all. Little did I know that two years after graduating my dream job would become my reality.
Upon agreeing to do the show, I was a full-time freelancer. The theater was on the west side of Chicago and I lived 1.5 hours away in the suburbs. I didn’t drive. I barely had a penny to my name. And our rehearsal schedule was aggressive. I knew based on the limited train schedule, I wouldn’t make rehearsals on time or be able to make it home. But I knew I needed to work with Redmoon and you. So….I emailed a few friends. Sam. Lola. Peju and someone else. I asked if each one could host me overnight for a designated night on their couch for the duration of the rehearsal schedule.
In return, I’d treat them to dinner, make them cakes or do whatever. So every Monday for a few months I stayed with Peju. Every Tuesday, I stayed with Sam and so on and so forth. This way I could arrive early to rehearsal and stay late too. I wanted to breathe your every word and not miss a beat. Sure I had my own bedroom in a house back in the suburbs that was comfy and perfect. But I didn’t give a fuck. In order to serve you as your stage manager, I knew it was better for me to sleep on couches in the city with my friends just so I could get to you and our show sooner each day. I don’t know other bosses or companies I’d be willing to do that for. But for you, I would. Any fucking day, Frank. There is magic in the discomfort and disruption you exact on my life and I welcome it.
After being hired in December, you sent our first official “Director’s Email” in January. It was titled, “I Will Ask You To Do The Impossible. Why Not?” and that fucking email was 6740 words long. (I will say fuck a lot. I know you don’t mind.) Frank, who writes an intro email to their cast, production crew, and theater staff with over 6000+ words? YOU DO! And I read every word. Here is an excerpt.
“I always think… Its a honor to write a new work. And a fools errand. But why do it if there is not a real journey to be had? I do believe we are all called to work, for some reason or another. Called together to make a piece of art, for ourselves, for the ones we love. We make the work with these priorities in mind- to excel at craft, to make beauty, to suggest aesthetic arrest, to celebrate life, to remind us and others we are alive, to tell story, to write poetry, to take risk- and to step forward as artists, be larger than the last time- showing others, we are a great species, so capable of change and greatness.
This work is risky- it is dark, cruel, difficult, mean, rough- it is only in the last minutes we suggest change, hope…
This is not popular work… It is important work. Maybe the 2 will combine. But for this endeavor I, and I hope we, are simply setting out to paint thae canvas, find the form, make clear the symbols. The rest is beyond us. We are explorers, our map is vague, the treasure is unknown, and most likely already present.
We are simply lucky and blessed. This is a powerful team. This is the team to make this hard work.
I have always chosen my team first on character, second on skill. It is more important to me that my teams be good people, good hearts first. Skill equal or second. That’s who I want in the room.
Dedication: this show is for Sam and Frida… May they never fall far from my arms.”
I was a beginner stage manager. Sure, I had managed a hand full of shows around Chicago and studied it in college but this was the big times. Soon after sending that email to the everyone, you wrote Natalia (my assistant stage manager) and myself a note.
“First, you are doing great- I think you and Natalia are awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome… We are doing good, huh?” – Frank to Sheena LaShay, January 2008
And so begin a series of hundreds of emails over the course of 8 months or so. They always had interesting titles like one sent in February of 2008. The title was, “BIG ASS NOTES FOR BONEYARD- MAKE A CUP OF JOE AND SIT YOUR ASS DOWN” – Frank. That letter included the following excerpt, “We are crafting a lyrical work that is about the reunion of a family- a sloppy, dirty, tragic reunion, false starts and failed amends, full of haunting and hallucinations. Dreary and tough. Muscular and raw. It is a folk opera.”
And you and I immediately began learning each other, teaching each other and figuring out our way with each other. Things like…..
“Can we make sure we have clear script for all the work we did with Jim… You are the voice of reason. I don’t want to have to reinvent that work, it is good. You have been doing an excellent job. The work will be moving, I promise.” – Frank to Sheena LaShay, February 2008
“Please prepare cue sheets and actor staging/activities for Tuesday for first half of show. I want us to be efficient. My goals are ambitious. Is it worth printing up a simple script? Or should we just review at top of each scene again- that seemed to work well.” – Frank to Sheena LaShay, March 2008
“We will not be remembered by our awards, our fame, our glory, but by the choices we made, the risks we took, the kind of people we were in danger and terror. This work, the making of this kind of work, does nothing but arouse fear. But we are walking into the storm, into the darkness, into the fire. We are active in the ritual. So, we will be remembered, at least in the creation of this work, as good people. Today. Good people. True.” – Frank to Sheena LaShay and the Boneyard Cast, March 2008
The challenge we faced was that we were creating a script based off a book. Except it wasn’t a true script. There were barely any words. It was a lot of actions. There were two 60 pound puppets. There was 800 pounds of dirt, sand and peet moss. And the set moved. There were shadow puppets and projectors and live music and recorded sounds and moving mics. And we would workshop ten outcomes of one scenario, then you’d make a rocket ship or piano or floating bed and the next day you’d demand so much from me. You wanted me to track everything. You wanted me to keep you on schedule. You wanted me to give you the freedom not to have a schedule. You wanted me to remember everything. You wanted me to forget everything we tried so we could just do something new. You wanted me to be strict. You wanted me to be free flowing. And you didn’t have time for bullshit. You just demanded what you’d need. You always complimented me. You were gracious. But you also wanted a cup of black coffee at the top of every rehearsal. You didn’t ask that of me. It wasn’t a part of my job but I made it our thing because it helped the tone for your day and so you expected that too. Sometimes you frustrated the fuck out of me. By the time tech rolled around…even though we had been rehearsing almost DAILY for two months, you and I were still bumping against each other.
(click the image to see it bigger)
Tech was a fucking bitch. It lasted for two weeks. Then we had previews and then more teching. Shit, at one point you snapped at me. I think I snapped back. One of the producers pulled us into a back hallway to get us back to one another. We found our way. Later on one night after tech you wrote to me, “I will call today. You were great last night. I am so happy you like Redmoon. We really like you.” In addition to sending me numerous 3000 to 6000-word emails, you also loved to just call me so we could talk and hear each other’s voice and discuss the show. I don’t think I’ve ever had that with a director before.
In addition to pushing me and frustrating me and inspiring me, you also empowered me. One email to EVERYONE was titled, “HERE IS MY SCHEDULE FOR THE WEEK- SHEENA MAKE THE CHANGES YOU WANT.” Emails like that made me smirk. You’re fucking FRANK MAUGERI. But you gave me your time and gave me the power to do what I wanted with it. Because you believed in me. Even when I doubted myself you trusted me with your show….with OUR show.
I think even after figuring shit out, we still must have bumped heads again. Because you’re always creating. So you’d come up with a new idea or new ending. And in my mind, I’m thinking everything you create has to be rehearsed. Then we have to “tech” it meaning hang, focus and cue lights, music, sound, mics, puppets, dirt and more for the new actions. Then I had to be comfortable calling and running the light board and sound board and such. But you were spending too much time creating and not letting me tech or “run” the show.
“Today I promise to come in with nothing but a professional optimistic committed manner. I will be ready to go. I want to spend much of time in shadows land- I want Meagan to feel supported and confident. She is so great, and deserves our attention and support.
I hope that in the midst of my recklessness, my foul mouth, my crassness, my chaos, my crude personality- you can see my love and respect for the medium and this group. I will move now into a different Frank now- he needs to arrive now, he is ready… I am excited to see him arrive. Thank you for your patience and care. Thank you for your trust.” Frank to Sheena LaShay, March 2008.
You always kept your promising to me Frank. Its why I came back each day hopeful, excited and willing to throw myself in 800 pounds of dirt for you.
Peppered in between creating this show and bumping heads during tech, you and I had a love affair with the show LOST. When we would have breaks or in between your 500 emails about the show, you’d email me your theories and such. One email in February 2008 was simply titled, “I know who’s in the coffin.” And another email came in February of 2008 titled, “A Theory I’m Working On.” I did a word count. It was 2300+ words in that email. Here’s a sample of yet another “Lost” email.
(click the image to see it bigger)
But Lost was only a tangent. More emails between us would happen. The issues with scheduling versus creating and our limited time.
“S. Here is rehearsal plan for today. I cannot be permitted to stray.” – Frank to Sheena LaShay, March 2008
“Frank, Please make sure you leave time after the run to go over any notes you may have for the performers. I would rather it be during rehearsal than during pre-show. You have also left thirty minutes for shadows at 3:30. Also keep in mind that we will need at least ten minutes to preset for the run at 4pm.” – Sheena LaShay to Frank, March 2008
We were grinding on each other’s nerves still while still loving each other, so much so, that I think one of us had another outburst. Because in March on the 26th, I wrote you the following.
(click the image to see it bigger)
All in all though, we worked wonders. So much so that by the opening of our play, your messages had a different tone. You were done challenging me and pushing me. Since our show was opening and you wouldn’t be at every performance, you needed to ensure I was empowered and calm and had the support I needed. I guess maybe you were testing my limits to see if I had that grit. Maybe I proved myself to you? Because next thing I saw was you being MY biggest ambassador and supporter.
Or this one….
“be of service to each other, to Sheena….”
“It is our gift to Sheena.”
Sigh Frank. What am I trying to get at? Awhile back a new lover in getting to know me and my past and my present, asked, “Who protects you?” I wasn’t protected as a kid. So now that I’m an adult he wondered, “who protects you?” Who’s my ally? Who will go to battle for me? Who will speak up whether its for love or for business or for friendship? Who are those people? And what I realize is that all along, you have always protected me by guiding me, teaching me, and pushing me. You’re one of the best mentors, I’ve ever had. I don’t have the words for it. To ask the cast to be of service to me or to ask the production crew to gift me by helping with things that were beyond their call of duty….sigh. I could write a novel on you!
Once our show opened up, every night, I’d send a performance report to EVERYONE. You and I decided that I would send you a separate special “Frank” performance report. You wanted details that probably were not important or beneficial for the cast. You wanted my honest opinions on shit. You wanted us to work out any kinks so you and I were always a unified front.
For example an email exchange in April 2008.
Frank: Did show go ok?
Sheena: Hi Frank, You are like the parent who calls the babysitter every half hour. Its adorable. Ill send my performance report soon but it went well. The performers felt good about it. Martin and Alice are both broken at the neck (puppets) and Martin has a part that will need to be replaced and not glued. Its gonna take Sam to do it. But the performers didn’t let it get to them. And I had no clue they were broken. It happened early on too. It went well though. Both Kasey and I mentioned tonight that its weird not having rehearsals anymore. I miss it. Your presence in the room is powerful.
Frank: Lord, its true. Its hard for me to let go, and time-out was there, and they like to smack me, a lot. I will make sure Sam manages Martin and Alice. The Kasey note is of interest- they should make user they are doing something to replace my energy- run through a scnene or… You can think about it. will slowly remove myself. I am just proud and loving- no harm in that right? Last thing, usually, the notes have an audience count, will you include those estimates. And some sense of audience engagement or response, without recording something that may harm or reduce performer experience, since they read these notes. Please consider.
During another show, some kink happened between music, sound, a few on the production, some performance report note and more. By the time I checked my emails that afternoon, confusion had happened and more. The following is an example of how exchanges took place once we were back on the same page.
Sheena to Charles (music director): Please keep in mind that I’m also learning this show. I’m memorizing light and sound cue fades and learning to anticipate the actor’s impulses too until I find the perfect way to run the show. Please allow me room for that.
Charles to Sheena: Cool, thanks for your help. Please assume I’m trying to help you out in whatever way I can, and if you think I’m not aware of some procedure, just ask me. I may not know all the technical stuff. I know you’ve got a lot on your plate and I think you’re doing a great job. I’ve started to think about these musical issues recently because I know all the tech stuff is relatively new. Also, let me know if you ever need to get together for any reason.
Frank to Sheena: YOU ARE DOING AN OUTSTANDING JOB.
During another week of performances, we had another kink in our system. The details don’t even matter. What matters is that after observing it in your absence and seeing how it was affecting the cast, I wrote you my perspective and what I would do about it. I wasn’t the cause of the kink. But it was MY show and the cast’s show and your show, so it was my imperative to fix it. Your response to my reaction was the following…..
Sometimes you got real particular. You started asking me to describe how the audience applauded. It was an intense show and you wanted to know the pace, the tone and even how long it took them to clap. Once I sent you your private performance report and forgot to include your applause notes. (I laugh as I write this.) So this exchange happened.
Frank: How did the applause go?
Sheena: Pause. Slow to start. And then full. If that makes sense.
Sometimes your emails to us would include bible versus, links to inspiring youtube videos or even your original poetry. You wrote us poetry during the show, Frank. Who the fuck does that? Here’s some more samples of our examples. I don’t know how to share your story in my life without people seeing how you spoke to us during the show and how we spoke to one another.
So, in April of 2008 we received this message from you…..
I was so deeply moved by the work on Friday… proud of the bravery, compelled by the storytelling, invigorated by the honesty. I was shocked by the intensity of the work, that we made something so technically remarkable, and so emotionally courageous. So true. I was blown away. This was an artistic step few would take, and we took it. We are bigger now. We have stepped up. We are of the brave.
I just want the group to know my heart is at every performance. There is a piece of me in the room, I left a chunk of myself in that show, a part of me that I am deeply proud to share… That may have been what I was thinking the whole time we stood together on Friday. What did I leave? here is my midnight realization- That I believe, fundamentally, people can change. That each of us, in the greatest darkness, in the most acute fear, can become someone else. We can come home. We must simply take the step towards home, towards intimacy, towards forgiveness, towards joy. I really believe this. This is what the show is about. This should be in our every move. This is the primary knowledge of the work. It is not a sad work, it is an honest work.
Or this exchanged happened between you and I.
Frank: Dear SLY. The head/president of the Jeff committee comes today at 3PM, SUNDAY.
Sheena: Thanks for the heads up. Do you want me to tell them (the cast) that specific person will be in the audience today?
Frank: I say no, just read the email I sent following. Just good for you to know. Pump them up, keep an eye on them…Don’t you think? You know them better than I do about this kind of info…What do you think?
Sheena: I normally don’t tell them when ‘someone important’ is there. I just give them your words of inspiration mixed with my sass and it gives them enough fuel to make magic.
Frank: Then do that.
After the show closed, you had us over for dinner at your home. This was that exchange.
Frank: Thanks so much for coming… Wish we could have talked… Being a host is hard. You both looked very beautiful and seeing you made me miss our tiny world of filth and magic. Here’s to hope. Thanks again for showing up- you 2 are very special folks.
Sheena: Filth and magic. I think that sums it up perfectly. Your home is quaint, sophisticated, charming, and so wonderful. I fell in love with the front porch and the bathroom. Weird, I guess. Thanks for having us there. I like being in the same room as you.
Months after the show ended, we would send each other messages.
Sheena: I miss Martin. I miss the smell of your bitter coffee. I miss Vanessa’s hands, Alex’s voice and the shadow with the atmosphere and moon.
Frank: So nice. Today I missed dirt, and Kaseys voice, and Vanessas hands. And you.
Then even month…many months later while beginning to work on another show, I sent you a panicked email. The position I was hired for wasn’t what the show had me doing. I was pissed and wanted to leave but I was afraid that if I left the theater might say I was a bad stage manager. I didn’t want my reputation to be tarnished but I had given up so much for the show including NOT working with Redmoon and they had in essence deceived me. My message to you was angry, full of misspellings, emotional and all over the place. These are some exceptions.
“RESIST. WE GET TO BE GOOD ONCE. CHARACTER BUILDING IS OUR ONLY AGENDA” – Frank to Sheena LaShay after she mentioned wanting to snap at the new director in an email
“I DON’T LIKE WHEN YOU PARTY.” – Frank to Sheena LaShay after one part of her email mentioned using parties to distract from adulting.
Or Sheena: In order to stage manage, they asked me to assistant stage manage but really it was a stage hand. I know I said nothing was beneath me. <— your response, “SIMPLY FUCK THAT.”
I continued, “Frank, nothing is beneath me. I tilled dirt for four months and loved every moment.” <— your response, “NOT EVERY MOMENT, REMEMBER THE TRUTH PART.”
One of the actors was a horrible little girl but she was a little girl. I wrote, “I can’t walk out on a little girl, can I?” <– your response, YES. (That cracks me up!)
I also wrote, “I was also scared that bowing out would ruin my reputation…” and your response…“IN THE END, ITS NOT IMPORTANT. ITS SMALL STUFF. WORK WILL COME TO YOU. THEY CAN SAY WHAT THEY WILL AND I, WHO AM A BAD ASS FUCKER IN CHICAGO, WILL CONTINUE TO WRITE YOU LETTERS OF REC THAT ARE SIMPLY FUCKING AWESOME. I ASSUME, WITH SOME EGO, MY LETTER MEANS MORE THAN THEIRS. I BET I AM RIGHT.” <— bwahahahahaha. Its so true. Your word means more to me that most people on this planet. Do you know that? Your vision means more to me. Your work ethic. Your direction. You truly mean more to me.
My emotional turmoil in this email had me questioning my carrer even. I wrote, “Why did I choose stage management?” <— to which you responded, “THAT MAY BE THE QUESTION. WHY. I WONDER IF THIS IS PART OF IT. WHAT DO YOU WANT? TO WRITE? THEN WRITE. TO DIRECT? THEN DIRECT. I CAN PROBABLY RECOMMEND OPPS FOR BOTH. BUT YOU ARE A GREAT LEADER. YOU DO GET DISTRESSED, AND SOMETIMES LACK FAITH. IN OTHERS, IN THE PROCESS.”
My response to you. “Stop writing… Your words will make me cry. Only cuz they are truthful. I love stage managing. I don’t think you could fathom how much I love it. But, yes my passion is writing. And I have had some holy moments directing, let me tell you. But I stage manage for many reasons. I fell into it out of anger though. A director at school wouldn’t let me into the fourth acting class I needed for my studies for dumb reasons, although I love him dearly… So I stage managed for another director and realized I had a natural talent for it and loved it. So I did it for the rest of my time at wheaton and blew them away. But senior year I auditioned for that same director again that denied me and he cast me as Louka in Arms and the Man by Shaw. By that time I had made my mark as a stage manager, writer, and Asst. Director in the theater so I didn’t care about the anger or acting anymore. I’ve written many things including plays but I keep them in the dark. Don’t know why. Not ready to let the world see my real demons because they live in my words..”
I wrote that in 2009 I believe. “Not ready to let the world see my real demons because they live in my words.” I wonder if this is why I haven’t published a book I finished in 2011. Or why I hoard my one act plays even though they are finished. Or why it scares me that I am writing another book that the publisher is demanding is finished at the end of this year. My demons live in my words. But you, you demand my words. You’ve always been ready to face my demons even before I was ready.
That’s what I remember too. This letter shows how we worked together and sometimes discussed Lost. But during that time, I went through a lot. I had a whirlwind romance that ended with me broken and depressed and alone. I moved. I had started a new corporate job. I was still dealing with my own grief. Jesus. Now I’m remembering how my best friend’s mom got sick during that time. I’m remembering how I lost my grandma. All this stuff happened. And sometimes it came into rehearsals. All of our personal stuff came into the rehearsals and the show because it was a personal show. Every day, we were digging up our own shit and burying our own shit in that very real dirt. The words. The symbolism. The fucking puppets. It was us. We left blood in the dirt. And you led us. You inspired us. You taught us. But its not just about the “us.” You were all the things to me. You’re one of my biggest heros, Frank. You made me a better stage manager. A better friend. A better woman and a better person. You frustrated the fuck out of me so many times. You did not always agree. But even with your grit you were always gracious and compassion and kind. You matter so much to me.
Years ago, I wrote you yet another thank you note and your response was the following.
“Sheena, I shared your note and well I cried a little and well then a lot- You are made of magic… good magic… hope we talk soon, we should… keep spreading reckless joy lady” – Frank to Sheena LaShay, May 2009
I’m a Wild Magical Woman now, Frank. Credit of course, must also go to you. You always brought out my Wild and my Magic. I need you to know this Frank. All you have to say is a word and I am there. I am forever your stage manager. I mean that. That is my truth.
You may Also Want to Read
#32LoveLetters is a 32 day blog post challenge leading up to my 32nd birthday, I am writing letters to the people in my life who contributed to me becoming fully myself as a Wild Magical Woman. If someone were to write a biography about me…which they will, it’s imperative that chapters are focused on these 32 people. They have had a profound, lasting and influential effect on my life. I can not tell my own story without telling you of theirs.