Citizens on the Battlefield…in Wyoming???

It’s great to be back in the Sunshine State! Most of the month of May was spent working on a live performance event for military contractor Allied Container Services. This is the same work I performed in October and November, and 30-40 of the Florida talent traveled to Wyoming to continue the National Guard training exercise. The balance of the cast was made up of local performers, including those from the “Free Range Regulators,” a traveling performance group that produces gunfight shows.

Prior to my departure from Jacksonville, Layla and I volunteered as ushers for a matinee showing of The Maltese Bodkin at Theatre Jacksonville. I really wanted to audition for this play, to put my ten years directing murder mysteries and thirteen years performing in Shakespeare plays to good use. Several potential scheduling conflicts indicated I should not try out for the show, but at least Layla and I got to see this noir detective / Elizabethan hybrid.

We also caught The Clash of the Titans that day, and although we had not intended on watching the “3-D” version, that showtime was the most convenient for us. This is my first experience with the current generation of 3D, and my initial impression is that, although it complements the storytelling somewhat, it is hardly the quantum leap that sound and color brought to the medium generations ago.

Yes, I missed Avatar. I’m probably the only person on the planet who has not seen the James Cameron masterpiece.  I never heard anything about it that made me want to buy a ticket. People kept saying, “…because of the 3-D, man!” It’s got to take more than a fledgeling technology to get me excited about the movie-going experience. Give me a good story first, then I might be interested.

As for “Real-3D,” I look forward to improvements of the system before shelling out 2x the ticket price to see the same flick with an extrapolated depth. While “flying” over sweeping landscapes was awesome and really made you feel the power of this new tool, it took me out of that “suspension of disbelief” during most of the scenes. Unless the technicians key the dimensions for everything on the screens, backgrounds tend to appear flat — actual constructed sets appear as painted mattes in the final product. This was most notable early in the movie when Perseus was brought into the “Great Hall” shortly after his capture, and also later, when rock faces provided for a backdrop.  Another drawback of the technology, is that it is hard to track fast-moving objects, so every fight scene, or character that passed quickly close to the camera seemed to “strobe,” rather than have a smooth, fluid movement. Overall, the movie was a good retelling of the 1981 Harry Hamlin stop-action feature.

Getting to Wyoming was an adventure by itself. Some drove 2,000 miles over several days across our beautiful country (some through the Tennessee floods), while others, including yours truly, opted to enjoy the scenery in just a few hours at thirty-four thousand feet. We still had a three-hour drive from the nearest airport to our final destination, so five of us piled into a Ford Explorer to make that trek. Request to the State of Colorado: You might want to put signs along Interstate 25 northbound that reads, “Last Gas, Food, Water, Restroom, Cellular Signal, etc. For 200 miles,” especially for us East Coasters who aren’t used to being without such basic amenities for more than fifteen miles at a time!

We arrived at the Sage Brush Motel late that evening, and decided not to pack any more activity into this day. Fortunately, our call time the following day was at noon, which gave us ample time to finish settling into our temporary residence. Those who arrived a couple days early located Ben’s Bar and Kelly’s Bar, the major entertainment in this town, and used the morning on the first day to recover from their thorough investigation of these two venues.

On our walk back from work to the motel one day, Archie Cogollos and I noticed a regional track meet was being hosted by the town’s high school, so we decided to check it out. I went, thinking this might be the only entertainment all month, but I learned Arch ran track in high school and was really admiring these athletes. Being out of town and knowing absolutely no one, we ended up cheering for absolutely everyone. We were there for about six hours. Our voices paid the toll for the next several days.

Something we were both amazed by, coming from hyper-sensitive Florida, in this town of 1,100 people who, no doubt, know everyone who is a local, not a single parent or coach challenged our presence. Archie said it best, “It kinda restores your faith in humanity!” Throughout the rest of my time there, I noticed, with great delight, the frequency at which strangers made intentional eye contact, accompanied by a wave, or a smile, or both! It was quite refreshing. One of my roommates, Doug, encountered a local rancher, looking for a few new workers. The job offer sounded too good to be true…so you know where this is going. He promised an income potential in six figures, full-time, year-round, even though half the year would be “slow.” He would visit the hotel on a daily basis, inviting Doug out for a business lunch or dinner, to continue discussions. Half-way through our stay, we learned that this guy has swindled others…now, we had to figure out how to discourage him from his frequent visits.

Most nights, we gathered around a “fire barrel” and shared stories, discussed the day’s job, joked, drank, ate, and otherwise enjoyed each other’s company. It was a great way to wind down at the end of the day, and fostered a sense of community among us, which I am sure contributed to our overall performance for the project. Since we were portraying villagers, we essentially created our own village in a motel on Highway 26.

The fire barrel was the only amenity at the Sage Brush Motel…aside from WiFi connectivity, which we stressed every evening. It would have been nice to have modern climate controls, a solid roof, sheet-rock over the particleboard walls, insect-free carpet, permission to use the on-site laundry facility, and hosts that didn’t argue openly with their customers, but being one of only two lodging locations in the entire town, you take what you can get, I suppose.

I brought some books and magazines with me, with the hopes of getting some long overdue reading done. In the first week in Guernsey, Wyoming, I finished all three books, and an issue of AOPA Pilot (the first time I read an issue from cover to cover in years!). After that, I occupied my free time by walking throughout the town, taking pictures and composing videos to share on Facebook.

Better Dads, Stronger Sons by Rick Johnson was a “father’s guide” as told by a hunter who did not have a close relationship with his father, and only found God late in life. I had trouble relating to this author, since I was raised as a Christian, don’t hunt, and have always had a close relationship with my own dad. Although it was a good synopsis of his own journey into fatherhood, it was more entertaining to read this subjective account, than an informative “guide.”

The Father’s Guide to the Meaning of Life by Joe Kita, however, was fantastic read. Joe’s use of humor and numerous, varied anecdotes made this a quick read and an enjoyable experience. Of course, 136 six-inch pages with wide margins also makes for a quick read, but the content on those pages is very informative and entertaining. After every couple chapters, Mr. Kita inserts “insights,” which are resources or two-paragraph stories he wanted to share about being a father, that don’t really fit into any of the specified chapters. New dads, pick this book up!

I also re-read casting director Lori Wyman’s The Organic Actor, an approach at auditioning and performing for film and television from the perspective of a seasoned casting director. I have taken Lori’s Acting for Film weekend workshop, and many of the stories she shared then also appear in her book. Whether you are an actor or not, you would be amazed at the level of professionalism (or lack thereof) she has encountered during her years of casting for major motion pictures and television series. This book is a wealth of information that can be consumed in brief “nuggets” or as a cover-to-cover read.

On May 12th, it snowed. The roads were just passable, and this Florida boy packed for cool, but not cold weather. I managed by wearing layers under my costume. That morning, we had a snowball fight and made a two-foot tall snowman (er, um, Snow Woman…excuse me…or I guess Snow Girl would be more accurate, the only anotomical cues being pine-needle eyelashes). The military vehicles tested traction on the hillside to ensure we would be able to leave at the end of the day; of course, if it snowed for the next twelve hours, there was the potential we could be stranded. By lunchtime, however, most of the snow in our area had melted, but we heard from performers working at higher elevations, that they had 5-7 inches of snow, longer snowball battles and a life-size snowman! from Florida, I’m used to the weather changing quickly and frequently. In Wyoming, the same is also true, but the terrain is much less forgiving. The clay roads are much less porous than the sandy “dirt” roads of the Sunshine State. After a drizzle, the roads become as slick as ice, and after a thundershower, the surface melts into a six-inch deep pasty, gooey mess. Half the vehicles we drove for this operation had four wheel drive, some of which worked intermittently. It was a gamble whether or not the two-wheel-drive vehicles could make the trip when the roads were in that condition. On those days, several vehicles were towed back to the “paddock.” When the roads finally dry, they’re hard as concrete, shaped by the ruts created by the tires of all these vehicles, which make the surface even more uneven than the “washboard” dirt roads we Floridians are used to.

All-in-all, it was an educational and rewarding experience, introducing these troops to that “unknown” element civilian interaction creates during a military operation. Although the soldiers are quite proficient at various tasks, these live action scenarios force them to use their creativity, intelligence and reliance on communication and the chain-of-command to think “out of the box” to resolve issues that may not occur during traditional training programs.

It was great to get home, spend time with Layla’s family (who were in town during my absence) before they left, and get back into my regular routine. I am back to auditioning for commercials and films, and have a couple potential website design clients. This past week, we had a baby shower at our church, and some friends are hosting another next week. Now that I’m home, I need to get to work preparing the nursery room for its imminent occupant!

Scott J. Smith

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