This time of year….

This time of year is odd for me…

Today marks the 7th anniversary of my dad’s death. I still miss him every day. I talk to him all the time, sometimes in my head, sometimes out loud. Mostly if I’m trying to figure something out, or if something happens that he would’ve loved. Once in a while I’ll see someone on the street or in a store who reminds me of him and my breath catches for just a second – that usually takes the rest of the day to recover from. He was a a great guy, caring, smart, funny, imperfect like the rest of us, and I always knew I was loved. I wear the 25th Anniversary ring that he got from Ford Motor company, just to keep him close. (Well, he got a tie tack. Since my dad wore a tie about 3 times in his 68 years, he turned it into a ring when he got it!) Here’s what I wrote the day after he passed away, if you’d like to read more about Frank Caselli.

The other reason this time of year is weird is that 8 years ago today I was in the St. Joe’s Chelsea Hospital, after having collapsed at home, starting my long “meningitis adventure”. I remember very little of what happened, especially the beginning 6 weeks or so. The occasional flash of a hospital room or my wife or sister. I have clearer memories of the last few weeks, as I was waking from the coma and going in and out of consciousness. Some visitors, struggling to breathe, my parents being there non-stop. I remember a LOT of very vivid, long, coma dreams – what felt like other lifetimes and other realities. Here’s what I wrote about that experience, if you’d like to read more about that.

Also, my birthday is this coming Monday! It’s so close to these two things that have changed my life forever that it feels weird to be thankful and excited for my birthday, but I am. I know a lot of folks don’t like birthdays – “Another year older, ugh!” and all that, but I love it. Especially the last 8 years or so. “Another year older” isn’t “Ugh!” for me, it’s “I MADE IT!” – I got another year with my family, friends, enjoying the world around me. Especially with the pandemic and the world being what it is right now. This one will be 53! Who knows if I’ll make it to 68 like my dad – heck, who knows if I’ll make it to 54 – but I know I’m going to try and enjoy being here now, and celebrate the wonderfulness around me.

So, today, I encourage you all to celebrate. Celebrate your lives, celebrate the life of my dad, hug your loved ones and your friends – tell them how awesome they are, and put hang-out days on your calendar right now! This is the life we have – time is being spent right now. Enjoy it. Savor it all.

2022 already?

I remember in 5th grade, my teacher was Mrs. Kendrick. Or was it Mrs. Heater? No, Mrs. Heater was 4th grade. This was definitely Mrs. Kendrick. It was nearing Christmas break, and as an exercise she asked us all to take a minute, and figure out how old we’d be when we got to the year 2000.

How vivid that moment is – I remember thinking “31?! Oh man I’m gonna be SO OLD!” Mrs. Kendrick then led us on a discussion about what things we thought might change the most, and what would be different when we got to the year 2000. (I was a big fan of the reruns of the TV show “Lost In Space” at that point, so i was pretty sure I was going to wind up on a spaceship like Will Robinson, with a robot pal and a life of cosmic adventure! Sadly, no luck so far.)

Now, here we are 22 years PAST that magical point that seemed so far away. And the world sure is different than it was in 5th grade. My knees today, walking up the stairs at work, were WISHING they were 31 again! 🙂

I definitely didn’t think we’d be in year three of a global pandemic, and only a year past an armed insurrection trying to topple our democracy from the inside. I wouldn’t have predicted a kidney transplant, or the illnesses that led to it. I couldn’t have begun to guess at how blessed I’d feel to have a family as wonderful as the one I do, or how happy being with my wife and kids would make me. And, in 5th grade, I had no idea that I’d fall in love with storytelling, and theatre, and the joy I would get from bringing stories to life for people to be entertained by, and challenged by. Funny to think that at that point in my life I was still several years from the show that shifted my life forever, a Huron Civic Theatre production of Fiddler On The Roof that my parents took me to. The minute the lights went down and the curtain went up, I was hooked.

And now here we are – in 2022. I’m lucky to run a professional regional theatre with some of my closest friends, and despite the pandemic, the political polarization, the ridiculous denials of basic science, and the many challenges the whole planet currently faces, I’m happy and optimistic about our future. Are there challenges to overcome? Sure. But when haven’t there been? Right next to them, thankfully, are people working to solve them. And I still believe there are more people operating from a place of common sense, decency and compassion than there are operating from fear and greed and malice.

So, bring on the new year! There are good things on the horizon, and I still believe anything is possible! I mean – just a couple of months ago, we got a new season of the rebooted “Lost In Space” on Netflix – so maybe those 5th grade dreams still have a shot.

Slowly Waking Up

That’s the way things feel right now – after the kidney transplant, I’ve gotten a lot more energy back, my numbers are all looking great, and so I’m starting to do more and more regular life stuff. We’re also starting the progress of waking up the Williamston Theatre, after a long 16 months of dusty, quiet emptiness. Starting in August we’re bringing back the staff, and starting the process of re-opening the building and prepping for a late Autumn return to performances. AND this month the current phase of our renovations will wrap-up, which is going to be great. I can’t wait for audiences to return to the space.

We’re also working on a couple of staged readings! Very excited for these, they’ll be outdoors on the Summer Circle stage at Michigan State University. We’re always thrilled to collaborate with the MSU Department of Theatre, and grateful for the use of their beautiful outdoor space for these readings. It feels great doing things like sending out scripts and working out rehearsals again! For more info on those readings, CLICK HERE, and then join us on August 6th and 7th! Two terrific plays: A super charming, brand new piece by the award winning playwright Jason Odell Williams called On The Market, and a fabulous bitingly funny satire by indigenous playwright and MacArthur fellow Larissa Fasthorse called The Thanksgiving Play.

I’m really hoping that the Delta variant of Covid, and now the new Lambda variant I just read about, don’t take off and sweep through the country. Our reopening plans depend on numbers getting better, not worse, and the whole theatre industry is making plans and watching with wary eyes. Take care of yourselves, folks, and get your vaccine!

In other news, has anyone been watching the Detroit Tigers since the All-Star break?! I mean, this team is probably going to finish middle of the pack at the end of the season, but that’s okay – it’s a big improvement over the last couple years, and their future is looking bright. As I write this though, they’re on a 6 game winning streak and leading 7-5 in the 8th inning, so it could be a 7 game streak soon!

I’ve spent a bunch of my recuperation weeks reading – anyone else a fan of N.K. Jemisin? Over the last few years I’ve become a huge admirer of her writing, and I’m nearly through her fabulous sci-fi/fantasy series The Inheritance Trilogy. You can check out all her writings here. I’ve also spent a bunch of time reading a lot of plays, in particular looking at a lot of plays by BIPOC writers. In fact we’re excited at Williamston Theatre about a gorgeous play we’ll be producing in collaboration with a couple other theatres around the country in an upcoming season that I can’t talk about yet, but it’s going to be a very cool project, and I’m thrilled to start this relationship with this fabulous playwright.

That’s it for the Thursday update. So grateful to be getting back to work, getting my energy back, and hoping for things to open up safely a little more. Aaaaaand the Tigers just beat the Rangers 7-5, so that’s a nice 7-game winning streak!

Take care of yourselves y’all!

Updates on a Tuesday

Lots of things happening around here at Casa Caselli.

Jeanne and I are healing up nicely from our kidney transplant. It’s officially been a month, and everything seems to be going in the right directions so far. We’re both moving around pretty well again, with just minor soreness. We can both drive again, although it’ll be another few weeks before we’re allowed to lift anything heavier than 8 lbs. I’m adjusting to the new regimen of anti-rejection meds, and glad that they let me wear this shirt:

(I may have bought several fun “kidney transplant” t-shirts this month!)

The whole family is really grateful for all the support we got during this whole event: a HUGE Thank You to everyone who reached out and sent support in any way – texts, cards, food, visits, it was all SO helpful.

Meanwhile, lots of other things are happening too – at Williamston Theatre we are FINALLY looking at a schedule that would reopen our building in 2021, and working on all of the 7,942,233,007 things that that involves. We’ve been doing some staff DEI training, which has been eye opening, educational, tough and really useful, resulting in lots of reworking of internal policies. We’re working on nailing down the reopening season (AND the next one, actually), and will be making some announcements over the upcoming months, and there are some really exciting projects and collaborations coming up that I’m excited to share with everyone. Plus we’ve got renovations happening at the theatre and new seats ready to install for our patrons to enjoy. The Covid Shutdown has been a nightmare of an intermission, but we’ve tried to combine “use the time wisely” with “spend this uncertain time with family and stay physically and mentally healthy”.

So, now we slowly start coming out of the bubble we’ve been in. Because of my anti-rejection meds making me extra susceptible to infection, I still will be wearing a mask often, but I’m still feeling better about being out among people again. I may have to see about getting to a Lansing Lugnuts game sometime next month, I’ve been looking forward to some live baseball!

One nice side effect of the surgery is that since coming out of it, because of the new dietary and medical stuff, I’ve been eating less junk and am down about 20 lbs. Feeling more fit than I have in a while, hoping to keep that trend up and stay healthier – I’m not quite back to my “pre-surgery” routine of walking 3-5 miles a day, but I’ve been able to do about 2.5 every couple of days the last week or so, and I’ll be trying to improve on that over the next couple of weeks. (I’m inspired by my amazing wife, who walked 2 miles AND ran 2 miles today!!)

So, I think that’s it from here for now. Trying to heal, rest, prep for reopening, and enjoy being with my family. Doing a lot of reading (plays, novels, anti-racism education, an N.K. Jemisin trilogy) and watching TV. And, honestly, lots of self-reflection about what “Post Covid” and “Post Transplant” life should be, and could be. We’ll see what that leads to!

I hope everyone is doing well, staying healthy (physically AND mentally) and enjoying their summer. Take care of yourselves!

Transplant updates!

Jeanne and I have returned home from the amazing UofM hospital and transplant clinic. They took great care of us, and now she has one less kidney, and I have three! (But, as the transplant joke goes, two of mine are decoys!)

We are at home, getting taken care of by wonderful family and friends, and being very grateful for the support. We’re both very sore and tired, and under strict orders to rest, do nothing but take short walks, lift nothing and heal. The next 8 weeks will be a lot of recuperating, and we both have to just make ourselves take it easy. Right now it’s hard to sleep or rest because of how painful everything is, but the pain meds help and that will ease over the next week or so as incisions heal, muscles knit back together etc…. Right now we are trying to sleep a lot!

The new kidney, for me, is a whole new lease on life. It comes with a new set of challenges, a lifetime regimen of anti-rejection medications that require constant balancing and some other things that go along with those, but it’s such a gift. I’m the luckiest guy, and I’m determined to make the most of this blessing that my wife, medical science and the universe have given me.

Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive – the cards, social media posts, texts and well wishes – they all mean a ton to us and it’s deeply, deeply appreciated. If you know a medical professional, hug them for us.

The Transplant is Here!

Well, this is the week! On Friday the 21st of May, I’ll be getting my new kidney. Even more amazing is that it’s coming from my wonderful wife, Jeanne.

I’ve known this day would come for the last 7 years or so, although we didn’t find out until recently that Jeanne was a match and would be donating my kidney – for which I’m so grateful and thankful – she’s amazing and I’m a lucky man.

I’m also very grateful that I got the last 7 years of not needing dialysis. After my whole hospital stay in 2014, every day is one I’m thankful for, but for the first few months after the hospital I was on dialysis and we were thinking that would be a long-term thing as I went onto the transplant waiting list. But then I got very lucky and my kidneys healed up a bit, to my doctor’s surprise, and I got a whole 7 more years out of them! (If you don’t know any of this story and want some details, check out this part of my website)

Now we go into another stage of the adventure. Jeanne and I, and the kids, are so blessed to have family and friends who are so supportive during this time (If you’re reading this, you know who you are and we love you. Thank you.)

SO – if you’re a person who believes in putting good energy out into the universe for things, we’d appreciate any good vibes you have this Friday and through the weekend! I’m nervous, just because… y’know, surgery, but I also know we are in great hands with the fabulous team at the UofM Transplant Center – they’ve been SO great to work with, we’re eternally grateful for their skill and awesomeness.

Here’s Stef Din and I, and the Kidney SHE gave me. It’s a lot more plush than the one Jeanne is giving me, but I’ll love them both…. I’ll probably just USE the one from Jeanne more! 😂

The One Year Mark

One year. The Big Pause.

It was one year ago today, March 21st, that we finished our quick week of pivoting from “rehearsing a play” to “filming a play”, and we turned Tech Day into a long day of filming the show we’d been preparing for live audiences. These Mortal Hosts became a hybrid – a piece of theatre, performed in a theatre with no audience, and filmed for online release. At the end of the long day of careful filming, filled with lots of hand sanitizer and as much social distancing as we could, we sent the skeleton crew of people we had left in the building home and said “Hopefully we’ll see you in a couple weeks. Be safe.” Little did we know. A couple days later the state went into lockdown.

And here we are, a year later. We’re all hoping that we can reopen before the calendar turns to 2022.

This last week, though, has been fun – we’re working on a new audio project for Williamston Theatre, and it’s been nice to get to work on something creative with folks. I’ll be honest, the last few months have been tough. I’ve struggled personally with motivation, energy, and purpose. Part of that has been pandemic weariness, isolation and loneliness, and some of it has been physical – my kidney disease has progressed a lot over this year, and that’s taken a toll on my energy levels. Right now the expectation is that we’ll go through the transplant procedure in the next few months, and the kidney that my wonderful wife is donating to me will make a huge difference in our lives. I’m looking forward to having that energy back!

In the meantime, like everyone, we’re riding out the pandemic. I’m halfway vaccinated, I’ll get my second shot in about 10 days. Jeanne gets her shot soon. The theatre is taking this time to do some building renovations, and planning on our eventual reopen while we work on a couple audio projects to share with our audiences. You can see the ones we’ve already done on our website HERE!

And so here we are. It’s hard to believe that a year has passed and our theatre is sitting, empty and waiting. I miss the work, the stories, the audiences, the collaboration with artists. I miss being in a room with a bunch of people and working on a moment together until we HIT IT and everything clicks and the whole room buzzes with the energy of a moment that works – and we take that energy and excitement and try to infuse it into all the other moments of the play, because we know that’s why we’re there – to work together, to share these stories that move people, and make a difference in their world.

I miss that. So much of this past year has been horrible – the loss of life, the economic challenges, and for me personally (especially over the last few months), the feeling of being purposeless. We tell stories to try and make the world a better place, to try and make a difference – however small – in our little part of the universe. There’s nothing like hearing an audience laugh at a bit you hoped would work, or seeing them weeping with emotion at a story you helped shape. After nearly 30 years, I feel like that was my contribution to the world. And at first I took The Big Pause as a time to rest – to process everything going on – but now I’m really ready for that pause to end. I miss the work.

I hope we can get back to it soon.

Gratitude Entry

Looking around at the world around me, I can feel myself getting frustrated.

Is frustrated the right word? Maybe not. Listless? Looking that up right now: “Lacking energy or enthusiasm”. That feels closer than frustrated. In March we closed down the Williamston Theatre building to public performances, hoping for a few week hiatus while the world sorted out the virus.

That, of course, hasn’t happened.

And as the months have dragged on, I’ve found myself having a hard time maintaining my energy, my drive to create or produce or explore. There are some things I’ve done, like worked on being more fit (I’ve been walking between 3 and 5 miles a day since Spring), and I’ve been using a couple of apps and podcasts to work on learning the Italian language. But my frustration with the virus, the poor national response to it, the inability to produce live theatre, the question of HOW and WHEN to re-open the theatre… it’s been energy draining. (I know this is not a phenomenon unique to me, also!) I know that this whole year is an anomaly, and that we have to allow ourselves a little slack, but as someone who runs a small institution devoted to “making the world a better place through storytelling”, I am frustrated by my inability to do that, as well as by the fact that over the last few months I just can’t muster the energy to do much. Listless is probably the better word. I feel like I should be doing MORE. But I have no interest in re-inventing theatre for online consumption… maybe that will change in the future, but honestly one of the things I love about theatre as an art form is the presence of a bunch of people in a room breathing together with the performers. Anyway, that’s a whole topic that I could ramble about…. but instead I’m going to change the topic. Listless and frustrated is not something I want to be.

So, often, I find myself taking note of the things I have that I am lucky to have in an effort to make sure I’m not just being whiny and petulant. Here are a few of the things I’m grateful for this afternoon:

My wife will be donating a kidney to me! We find out recently that Jeanne and I are a match, and she can donate a kidney directly to me. She decided a long time ago to get tested and be one of the people to see if she was eligible to donate, but we never expected that she’d be able to give one directly TO me. Turns out that only happens about 5% of the time. I’m just overwhelmed with her generosity! It probably won’t happen for many months, because they’ll wait until my kidneys have given up the ghost, so hopefully the pandemic will be cleared up before the big event.

This past Tuesday, on December 1st, we had a wonderful “pandemic version” of our annual Giving Tuesday Play-a-Thon at Williamston Theatre. It was terrific, the plays were great, the performances were great, Zoom was mostly adequate with only a few challenging lag issues. The most wonderful part was seeing faces of people I hadn’t seen in months, chatting with them about the plays, stories, and seeing people who were looking forward to the theatre coming back in person.

Ted Lasso. YES – if you haven’t yet watched the tv show Ted Lasso, please do. It did not originally seem like anything I would be interested in (American football coach gets hired to coach soccer in England?), but after having many people give strong recommendations, I sat down to give it a try, and was HOOKED. I watched the whole series with Maggie, and then we convinced Jeanne to watch it and she fell in love so we rewatched it with her! Go watch it. It’s just one of the most hopeful, funny, heartfelt things and is a great remedy for the current…. world.

Decaf Chai Tea with Honey. Yeah, everything in my life is decaf now, and I’ve been enjoying tea more than ever. Even peppermint tea, which I expected to hate. But lately the decaf chai with a bit of honey has been a go-to favorite.

Today, I’m doing a couple of Zoom chats with people, and then I’ll be taking my walk. Then I’ve got a date with the couch and a good book. How do you fight off “listless”? Not sure, but I’m going to try!

Baseball!!

I know, I know – pandemics, politics, there is a LOT going on in the world more important than baseball.

I have so enjoyed the craziness of this 60 game Covid season of baseball, with the cardboard cutouts of fans and the 7-inning doubleheaders and crazy schedule changes based on coronavirus testing and runners starting on second base in extra innings. Just the “will they really be able to complete it?!” drama (and yes I was skeptical) but it’s been so therapeutic and exciting to watch, and the final game of the American League Playoff Series tonight was excellent.

But.

Yes. More important stuff in the world. And those deserve attention. But sometimes I need to… not pay attention. I run a theatre. We, like most of the industry, haven’t really been able to work since March and don’t know when the hell we’ll be able to. So, between not knowing when my company will re-open, and not knowing when I’ll get another paycheck, life is stressful. My kids are back in college and away from home during the worst pandemic in our lifetime. The country is a politically divided nightmare. And the solid, normal action of watching baseball is such a grounding thing, that it’s incredibly easy to add it to the list of things that I’m grateful for, that are helping me get through the craziness of NOW.

It’s way too easy to fall into getting locked into watching the news 24/7, building anxiety inducing scenarios in your head as you avoid big crowds, and sit doomscrolling Facebook for hours… but tonight, watching the Tampa Bay Rays win the ALCS was such a moment: the joy on those faces. The excitement, love, hope and JOY on that field moved me tonight in ways I didn’t expect it to. With the state of the world, I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen that much happiness. It choked me up. It was such a RELIEF – just seeing the emotion, the celebration – I’m so grateful to have been able to watch it, to have been reminded that those feelings can still happen, and to be unexpectedly overcome.

I can’t wait to watch the final National League Championship game tomorrow night. And then next week the World Series starts, and I will be watching every game.

And I’ll be so grateful.