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Never take yourself too seriously. At times, we jokingly pretended to be rock stars. Hence, the dry ice.
Never take yourself too seriously. At times, we jokingly pretended to be rock stars. Hence, the dry ice.

Lessons learned from my first gig

The formation of my punk band is the only thing in my life that is happening ahead of schedule.

My friend and I had a long running joke that we were going to fulfill a mutual lifelong dream and start a band when we were 50. However, over time we decided to jump start our rock star status and started messing around with sound more than a decade earlier than originally planned.

There are a thousand reasons why I shouldn’t be in a band. For starters, I have only been playing bass for six months. I practice almost every day, but still, I register pretty high on the Sucktometer. Also, with two kids and a job and so many other responsibilities, the proverbial full plate is more like a teeming trough.

In fact, there are so many other things I could or "should" be doing with my time instead of making bad sounds in my friend’s basement, and yet my two bandmates and I meet religiously every Thursday night.

It all started one frigid evening in mid-January.

There we were, freezing in Renee’s basement, wearing hats and gloves with the fingers cut off so we could stay warm and still play. But despite the missed notes and flat singing, that night, my band was born in a Riverwest basement, joining the ranks of every other Milwaukee band -- spectacular or craptacular -- that has ever existed.

The first few practices were rough. We practiced for four or five hours at a shot, trying to come up with something that sounded remotely like The Cure’s "Boys Don’t Cry." We were officially a Totally Crappy Basement Band.

However, every week we video recorded ourselves playing a song, and by March, when we watched the clips in succession, we realized we were actually getting better. We elevated our band status from Totally Crappy to Sorta Shatty, and we kept going.

Last night we played our first gig at a friend’s birthday party. It was our maiden voyage from the basement, and the only time we played for anyone or anything other than the was…

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The technical crew works to perfect all 22 of the scenes in "Phantom."
The technical crew works to perfect all 22 of the scenes in "Phantom."
The "Phantom" chandelier is 1,000 pounds.
The "Phantom" chandelier is 1,000 pounds.
Advance stage manager David Hansen heads the team that sets up the stage.
Advance stage manager David Hansen heads the team that sets up the stage.

Backstage with "The Phantom"

"The Phantom of the Opera" officially opens tomorrow and runs through Aug. 30 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Recently, David Hansen, the show’s advance stage manager, gave me a sneak peek of the incredible construction process that takes place in preparation for such an extravagant show.

"It’s a whole different show backstage," says Hansen.

The show travels from venue to venue in 20 48-foot trailers. According to Hansen, it requires 10 days and about 80 people -- 50 of whom are hired locally -- to create the elaborate sets. The largest jobs include hanging and preparing the signature chandelier, which is 1,000 pounds and features 35,000 beads, as well as constructing the black towers and the bridge, called the "travelator," and building 141 candles into the stage floor.

"We’re in a crunch right now," says Hansen.

Hansen says because "The Phantom of the Opera" is an older show, it was created with less technology than what’s available today. Therefore, even though more and more technology gets added every year, the show remains a mix of people and computer power.

"It’s a really cool aspect of this show," he says.

Hansen, who has been on the road with one show or another since 1981, says the behind-the-scene workers pull 16-hour shifts to prepare for the show, working some days from 8 a.m. until midnight.

"But we are all here because we all still love this show," he says.

"Phantom of the Opera" is an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical and the longest running show on Broadway. It tells the story of a disfigured musical genius who becomes obsessed with a beautiful soprano, Christine. The show is based on a French novel by Gaston Leroux, and was made into a film in 2004.

Tickets for the Milwaukee performances range from $20 to $68. Visit the Web site for more information and to buy tickets.

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Sometimes going off the registry is not a good idea, especially if you think a hamster or a marionette is an appropriate wedding gift.
Sometimes going off the registry is not a good idea, especially if you think a hamster or a marionette is an appropriate wedding gift.

Gift registry or no gift registry?

It’s a summer of weddings for me. Last summer, I only went to one, but this year, the nuptials are in full bloom. And that’s fine with me because the people in my life usually know how to throw a good one.

The only aspect of the wedding that trips me up is when I ponder whether or not to buy something off a gift registry or to trust how well I know the bride and groom and purchase a more personal present.

Today, I looked at a couple’s online Target registry and all of the in-my-price-range cool stuff was gone. However, there were plenty of other available items, like a "Foodsaver Seal ‘n’ Steam Cook Bag" or a Pyrex measuring cup with a lid or a bundle of washcloths, gray no less. Call me unpractical, but I like wedding gifts to have an air of romance along with functionality.

That said, after my wedding, I realized that some people should just stick with the registry. For example, the massive candelabra featuring a naked Adam and Eve painted in neon colors on the base ended up in the Goodwill box before the honeymoon.

I say just give it up.
I say just give it up.

Would you give up your bag at gunpoint?

Summer, unfortunately, brings a swell of street crime, including shootings. Knock on wood, I have not been robbed or mugged at gunpoint, so whenever I hear that a victim gets injured after refusing to give up a backpack or purse to someone with a weapon, I get really judgmental.

To me, whatever is inside a purse or backpack is not worth a life or a limb. It’s not even worth a principle. I understand the perspective that "by giving in" you feel like you’re allowing crime to continue, but you don’t really have a choice. One way or another, the bag is going to be taken, with or without bullets.

Also, mid-robbery is no time to "man up" or mouth off when someone’s threatening to end your life. Just give the a-holes what they want and thank your freaking lucky stars that you get to go to work the next day.