Timing is Everything!

Photos by Aida Zuniga So I was in Nicaragua on Wednesday soundseeing and heard a faint but distinctive grumbling coming from the belly of this volcano.

Steve sans smoke

I checked it out and smoke started to rise behind me and I figured it was time to get out of Dodge and rustle up some barbeque. Good thing I did or it might have been me on the menu.

Steve at the crater mit smoke

Steve Gladstone

The ‘alive and well’ Blind Dude

Broken Glass

dirty dishes photo by George Schiavone

I just finished stuffing some tuna fish into a green pepper, when I bumped my dish strainer and a glass plate came crashing down on the tile floor in my kitchen. I could hear it shatter into a zillion pieces. “Don’t panic, don’t move,” I thought, “and eat your lunch.”

I did and it was tasty. The problem was that the thousand shards of glass were still there after I finished eating.

I employ magical thinking at every opportunity, and when that doesn’t work, I turn to wishful thinking. I believe these sorts of sophisticated thought strategies are practiced by most everyone. A fine example of this is the decision we all make everyday whether or not to wash the dishes right after eating, or wait till tomorrow. If we wait till morning, the dish-fairy might just get them done for us.

Usually both the magical and wishful tactics come up short in solving real problems, and then I find myself resorting to reality, which is not as flexible as the magical approach. So, the myriad slivers of glass didn’t all by themselves suddenly wind up in the garbage can, migrate to a neat little pile to be sucked up easily into a vacuum hose, nor did they find their way back together again into a useful saucer.

What to do. Blind and barefoot in a kitchen with broken glass frosting your floor is a difficult situation.

Rule 1: Obtain a layer of protection. Rule 2: Move slowly. Rule 3: First, finish your lunch.

Fortunately, within arm’s reach were some paper towels. I grabbed several, crouched low and slowly ran the paper towels along the floor, moving the sharp little slivers aside and creating safe passage out of the kitchen. All 3 of my “call-me-anytime-if-you-need-any-help” neighbors were unavailable. I put up a blockade at the entrance of the kitchen so my guide dog Billy wouldn’t wander in. Six hours later, a friend swept and vacuumed my kitchen floor. I suppose she was a fairy of sorts.

So, when you’re blind and live alone and your dog throws-up, what do you do? Yep, magical thinking aside, obtain a layer of protection and move slowly (with some Lysol spray in tow). But first, finish your lunch.

My Minnie Vacation

Thank you Thespis! I closed Three Sisters after 30 performances and was hired straight away to play King Silvio in another fantastical iteration of The Love of Three Oranges, an updated 18th Century Italian fairy tale. The number “3” has been good to me lately. A little R&R was in order before beginning rehearsals for Oranges, so it was off to Disney.

Even worse than the broken desk chair, the broken refrigerator, and the broken shower door in my hotel room, was the one bar of soap on the little glass shelf along with the hand cream, shampoo and conditioner. (I’m reminded of the time when I washed my hair with hand cream!) Of course I forgot to ask for another bar of soap and the next morning I had to take the little piece of sink soap into the shower. Then later when I needed to wash the toothpaste off my hands, I had to hop back into the shower to retrieve it. Anyway, I got everything fixed and the maid loaded me up with extra bars of soap – compensation for my troubles. The good news is now I won’t have to buy any soap for my bathroom at home for about 6 months.

First off was Fantasyland. Part of the fantasy is not standing in line. However, I may have to drop that from my “Advantages of Being Blind” list. During this round of Disney, the traditional bump to the front of the line was met by the ADA police. I was informed that: “This ride is ADA compliant.” This was code for “all you disabled customers now have the same privilege to stand in line for 95 minutes to ride for five just like the rest of the schmoes.” Of course the stop-starting when you can’t see, the more than 27 toes you step on during that winding line maneuver, notwithstanding the burden for your companion who must diligently watch you and coach you to start and stop 197 times as you inch forward, isn’t considered an ‘undue hardship’ on the blind dude. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if most of the big round eared Crime Squad didn’t have a seemingly gleeful tone in their voice when delivering the news to join the rest of the sheep in line. It’s always a bit of a shocker when Disney employees behave like the normal rest of the world. Still I love the Mouse.

After visiting EPCOT and connecting with Figment, eating several chocolate covered frozen bananas, and riding through the Maelstrom and purchasing a new troll to add to my excellent collection of supernatural beings, I was off to Hollywood Studios. While at Guest Services there, I was offered a descriptive audio device which automagically described some of the action inside the rides. For example, during Pirates of the Caribbean, instead of just hearing a clunk on a table, a descriptive character voice told me that “Jack Sparrow raises his mug of rum, drinks it, and puts it down on the table.” Nice! Years ago I only heard a machine gun rattle, roaring propellers and felt the heat from a sudden burst of a fireball during the finale of the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. This time through my little device with headphones, I learned that “Indiana Jones was trying to rescue his partner Marion, who was shooting at the bad guys with a machine gun from the cockpit of a plane that was spinning out of control, while flames were racing toward the plane from an ignited gasoline tanker which exploded just as Jones and Marion leap to safety.” Über-cool.

Now we just have to train all the employees at The World to offer these handy-dandy devices. No one offered me the audio description machines at The Magic Kingdom nor at EPCOT. (Perhaps the very thorough ADA Crime Squad trainers need to be recruited to train the customer service reps at all the parks.) These nifty headsets will be on my list for Santa next go-round.

Now off to another magical land – Lugubria – and the search for three oranges.

Rehearsal and Opening

Our director Stephanie “blocks” the show, positioning the players to fit the action of the dialogue. In my case with “Three Sisters,” I’m playing Ferapont, an 80 year old messenger who is hard of hearing (according to the script) and whom we made visually impaired to boot. So in my case, my blocking was for 2 characters – me and the maid, the faithful Ana, who leads me wherever I need to go.


Usually I play sighted characters, keying off set pieces, changes in flooring, other actors, to get my bearings, but when I have the opportunity to play a blind character, I’ll have a timely cane or a sighted guide. (I’ve never used my guide dog on stage, though once I forgot to tie him down backstage and while dancing in the streets of Paris in “Hunchback of Notre Dame” came the familiar jingle of a dog collar and suddenly, there was my guide, bouncing in the streets of Paris with the ensemble. The audience loved it. After the show, the director said, “Let’s keep it in!”

Stephanie, an attractive brunette with piercing eyes behind rectangular glasses, sees and conveys a clear image of the “where, when and why” of each action for each player, choreographer Octi often assisting on the “how to get there.” With 16 actors, set pieces, flower arrangements, books, a smashing clock, toys, bottles, glasses, and dishes, which all move, there is a lot of constant traffic during the 4 acts of this show, both on and off stage. Everything is blocked precisely by Stephanie so the show runs like a well-oiled machine with no interruption in the action, and with no actors bumping into each other or the set. For this special show, the audience is also on stage on a movable riser which is repositioned 3 times during the play for different views in and around the Prozorov house.

The Candy Set

In order to get a sense of the surroundings on stage, Ana grabs some of my leftover Halloween candy and creates a model set, a colorful array of Jolly Ranchers, Twizzlers, and Sweet Tarts. She puts my hands on it so I can feel the set pieces, giving me a real sense of the space. My cell phone plays the part of the audience riser.

Miami Shores isn’t Flat

I have to remember that the 3 different staircases in the theatre I use during the show all have a different number of steps leading up and down from the stage – stage left has five, stage right has four, and the steps at the back of the house have six. As I go up and down these suckers, sometimes quickly, I gotta concentrate. I’m happy to report so far so good.


The costumes, designed by multi-tasking Fernando (who is also the set and lighting designer), are quite elegant, the ladies in corsets, beautiful floor length dresses, boots with heels, the men bedecked in military garb, the maids in formal servant dress, and that messenger for the chairman (yours truly) looking a bit disheveled.

Lights and Sound

Once the entire play is blocked, we start back at the top and do a “cue-to-cue” where each action starts and stops so the lights and sound effects can be added to the action on stage. With doorbells ringing, a violin playing offstage, fire truck bells sounding, birds chirping, barking dogs and over 170 different light cues, this process alone takes 2 weeks to conclude.

All Hands on Deck

Once the show is blocked, lit and sound-synched, it’s time to work the transitions from act to act. The 5 Stage hands, including the lovely Tammy who does double duty as a maid on stage, strike and add the massive amount of set pieces and props during the transitions between the acts,and pivot the 49 members of the audience on the movable riser, smoothly and efficiently.


You become a family when you work on a show. You nap backstage when you’re not working, eat together at the local bistro, and play with Billy the Dog whenever possible.


Once we open, Stephanie turns the show over to the stage manager Naomi, and the assistant stage manager Amanda, who “call” the show from top to bottom, making sure that the actors are in place and the almost 300 cues for lights, sound,set changes and actors goes off without a hitch.

It’s show time!

Lessons From Dog School

I recently returned from my third tour of Southeastern Guide Dogs with my new guide Billy, refreshed on some major lessons I first learned at dog school 20 years ago. While navigating a 26 day course living and training on the school campus, at first you think you are going to learn how to work with a guide dog, and you do this. However, some unexpected lessons also alter your habitual brain.

Quick to Criticize, Slow to Praise

Perhaps the biggest lesson learned at school is that we humans are quick to criticize and slow to praise. As a manager of an electronics retail store for several years, I ran a tight ship, swift to point out to my sales team the dirt on the floor or a customer not being greeted properly or shelves that were not well merchandised. When things were running smoothly, compliments to my team were rare. The way my salespeople knew they were doing a good job was when they were not being criticized by me.

You soon learn day one at dog school that obedience is critical to your safety. If your dog disobeys a command or runs you off a curb, you're toast. When your dog gets it wrong, you must quickly “correct” them with a strong verbal NO! and a hefty zing to their collar. They need to know they blew it. You also learn on day one that you need to praise your dog when they get it right. Praise is their paycheck. No surprise here that my school chums and I were natural zingers, but had to be constantly reminded by the trainers to “praise your dog.” For the first 3 or 4 days the hardest part of training was catching your dog doing things right. After a week or so, I was bellowing “Good boyeeee!”, almost songlike.

Here’s the ratio: for every 1 correction you make, you need to deliver 3 praises. You soon find out that if you constantly correct your dog without praising enough, your dog begins to shut down on you. Their mistakes increase and they may stop working altogether. When this occurs, job one is to build up your dog – go back to maneuvers they do well, praise and love them up. It doesn’t take long for them to start working effectively again. Bottom line, the dog wants to please you and needs to know that he is doing just that.

After about 2 weeks, I became a formidable praise-giver. The zings continued but so did the admiration. Over time, the corrections decreased and the praises increased and the overall performance became first rate. Praise built confidence, confidence improved performance. Major “duh” factor at play here.

Consistency was part of this lesson. If your dog blows it, you gotta correct them every time. Otherwise they learn that sometimes it’s o-k to blow it. Consistent praise, no brainer. Mixed signals don’t work well with pups and people.

Yep. I realized after returning home, I was long on criticism and short on praise with my kids too. My kids screwed up and I honed in on their faults like a tractor beam from a distant galaxy. They had to pick up their stuff, chew with their mouth closed and straighten their room. But the moment they started to do it unprompted, I didn’t notice. The “thanks for picking up your chicken bones and video games” didn’t sing from my lips. I thought, “Oh, they got it.” But I didn’t get it. Got to let them know! Playing armchair psychologist, I can’t help but think about all the adults I know who still feel that they could never please their parents. How could they? Their parents never let them know they were pleased.

Now I don’t assume a server at a restaurant is just doing their job when I get good service. Sure I tip 20% (up from my customary 15%) but I also give them the “at-a-boys!”

Down Time

A business friend once told me that “the day after I die, my inbox will still be full.” After working a route with Billy, I give him a chance to chill with a slurp from his water bowl or play with his ball or just take a nap. There are endless places to go and time to crunch. Gotta remember to rest. If the dog gets tired, he doesn’t perform well. Now I just have to also remember to give myself some downtime. I’m often too busy cutting the grass to sharpen the blades. I can get real dull real fast.


Whenever I’m on strange turf I have a tendency to tighten up and anticipate obstacles. Billy can sense that I don’t trust him and doesn’t perform well. Lack of trust kills performance. (Another duh factor.) As soon as I remember to trust him, he navigates beautifully. My job is to stop trying to control what I can’t control and read my dog. I have to remember that he can do things that I can’t do – like see.


When a trainer muses how “relaxed” your dog looks, you know your hitting your stride. Relaxing while working brings out the best in athletes and actors and dogs. The result of praise, trust and some well deserved downtime brings good things to your pup. Seems to bring good things to people as well.

Lessons are good wherever we learn them.