Saturday, June 30, 2012

Climbing, Performing, Scratching, and Sneezing

Denali National Park, from Mt. Sugarloaf.
So, between a ridiculously busy schedule, a freak allergy emergency, and an (at best) inconsistent internet connection, it's been over a month since I updated my Alaska blog. I will try to be as comprehensive as possible, so you can get a clear picture of what's been happening the past month.

Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge (DPWL), from Mt. Sugarloaf.
First off, for those of you who don't know, let me fill you in on the show I'm doing this summer. It's called "The Music of Denali" and it is a 45-minute history lesson of the team that first climbed Denali ("The Great One"). Denali is the highest mountain in North America, also known by it's unofficial name, Mt. McKinley. The show centers around a climber named Dan (one of 2 characters played by me) who is climbing Denali with his friend Angie. He falls through a collapsing snowbridge, and awakens to find himself in the company of Harry Karstens (also played by me) and Walter Harper, two of the first men to climb the mountain. Harry and Walter tell the story of the first ascent of Denali through music and dancing, with the help of Harry's long-time ladyfriend, Kitty, dance hall girl Molly "Fewclothes", and Angel, a very kind and pretty girl (who happens to look EXACTLY like Angie, mainly because they're both played by the same person). 

The DPWL Property, with Music of Denali (MoD) smack-dab
in the middle. Taken from Mt. Sugarloaf.
The show, to be candid, is not the greatest thing I've ever done, but audiences consistently tell us that we're better than anything they've seen on the cruise ships, so that's better than nothing. The music is pretty amateur stuff, and the jokes are pretty bad, which, coming from a world-class ham such as myself, is saying something. Despite the show being kind of ridiculous, we manage to have fun doing it. The cast is on a rotation, so we can keep it going 7 days a week, with 2 shows each night. Depending on who's in the cast on certain nights, and how full and fun the audience is, we've had some really great shows where everyone enjoys themselves. The script is loose enough that when I'm playing Harry, the main storyteller in the show, I can ad-lib and joke around with the audience whenever a bad joke gets no laughs (which is often). We manage to spin a lot of the groaners so they ultimately get pretty good laughs. There's a lot of tongue-in-cheek acting going on, and if it's one thing I know how to do, it's make an audience laugh in spite of themselves.

MoD. This and the previous two photos
were all taken from the same point on Sugarloaf.
Before each show, we serve a family-style dinner, with Alaskan Salmon, BBQ Pork Rib Tips, Mashed Potatoes, and Edamame Succotash, and homemade Apple Crisp for dessert. With dinner, each of the actors sings a preshow song -- my song this summer has thus far been "Grandma's Feather Bed" by John Denver. Audiences love it, and quite often I get folks clapping and singing along. More than once, I've had people stop me afterward and tell me that they love that song and are glad I sang it. One lady told me she was an elementary music teacher and she would teach that song to her kids each year, so it made me feel great to have made her day.

Sunset, or sunrise. Can't tell. Around 3am.
So yeah, that's about it. We do dinner and the show (lasting about 2 hours total), starting at 5:30pm, and then at 7:30, we say goodbye to everyone, then clean off the tables, reset everything, and do it all over again at 8pm. Like I said, I play Harry, who is the man telling the story, and it is by far my favorite character to play, since he is a loud, obnoxious cowboy of a man. Lot of room for being a dork onstage, which we all know, is what I do best. The other character I play, Dan, is sorta boring. Most of the show, I sit onstage silently, and listen to whoever is playing Harry tell the story. Dan doesn't have a lot of lines, but he has a bit of pretty singing at the beginning and end of the show, so my Dan nights are the nights that little old ladies tell me I have a beautiful voice. The ego is not hurting up here.

Denali's twin peaks make an appearance on the drive
back from Fairbanks. About 100 miles away. It's THAT big.
The past month has been equally interesting outside of the theater. A few weeks back, I started to feel sick to my stomach, as if I hadn't eaten in days. My throat was sore too, the way it feels when you take a large pill, and it feels like it's stuck in your throat. I felt like that for 2 1/2 days. The next night, I came home from the show, miserable, to find that I was breaking out in hives. The next morning, my entire body was covered in hives. (Before you start to get nervous, no, I am not posting any pictures of the hives. Unclench, everybody). I was scratching uncontrollably, and couldn't sleep because of it. Long story short, I took 3 days off from work, and went to two different urgent care clinics to discover that for the first time in my life, I'm allergic. To what, you ask? I have no idea. My guess is something I ate, although I can't figure out what it could possibly have been, since I haven't eaten anything out of the ordinary.

Rain on the horizon. Healy, AK. 2:30am.
In the time since my last post, in addition to getting sick, I've also explored a bit of the property, had some great food, some great beer, climbed almost all of one of the surrounding mountains, seen quite a few animals, and taken some really fun pictures. 

I climbed Mt. Sugarloaf, a small mountain that sits right smack dab in front of the Princess Property on the far side of the highway. I went with my friends and castmates Jessica, Tim, and Andrew, who we all call by his last name, Tebo. As we started the hike, I was informed that unlike all the other mountains that are worth hiking up around here, Sugarloaf is the most vertical. Don't get me wrong, it's not a challenging climb, compared to something as massive as Denali. This hike only takes about an hour. That being said, while other hikes, such as Mt. Healy, are mostly zig-zag trails that make you feel mostly like you're walking up a small mountain, Sugarloaf is more of a CLIMB, straight uphill. And I'm out of shape. INCREDIBLY, out of shape. So I made it only halfway up the mountain, to an old billboard on the side of the hill. I took a series of pictures when I got back down and pasted them together, so you can get an idea of what I look out at every day. Also to see how high I climbed. I must admit, it doesn't seem like a lot when you look at it in a picture, but it was a grueling climb. I'll hopefully try it again with a bit more strength before the end of the summer. In the mean time, enjoy the pictures below from my hike!

My route up Mt. Sugarloaf. Made it more than halfway
before petering out. NEXT TIME!
Tebo and Jessica pointing out where we're going.
From the halfway point, at the Lodge on the mountainside.
The billboard is located about halfway up the mountain.
Climbing up Sugarloaf. 
The Lodge on the mountainside, from the billboard on Sugarloaf.
It looks more impressive from the top than from the bottom.
We made it! Casey, Jessica, and Tim mark the occasion
with a photograph.
Also, I've taken a few neat pictures of the surrounding mountains, the Princess property from up high on Sugarloaf, and a few really lucky rainbow shots, including one in Fairbanks on my last day off. Also some moose sightings from my cell phone. Hopefully those cell photos will be coming soon!

I hope all is well with everyone else back in the lower 48! I miss all my family, friends, and most importantly, my wonderful girlfriend Lena, who is thriving in Los Angeles!! Hopefully when I get back, she'll introduce me to her cool new friends. By then, she'll probably have a multi-film studio contract and a million dollars, so I hope she lets me past security! =)

Much love to all. More fun stuff coming soon!