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The show ended a couple weeks ago. Long enough for the production crew to have a chance to catch up on real lives and consider the lessons & successes of Shrew.  I thought I’d share a few of them – some that surprised me, one that makes me hang my head in shame for being so naive.

Tickets

One of the small decisions we made for Shrew was to not print tickets, per se, but send confirmation emails to those who purchased tickets and have them print them out and bring them to the performance.  Given that we live in the age of the Internet, it seemed like a reasonable idea.

You’d be surprised how much our patrons said what they really wanted was to have a ticket, a conventional ticket, in their hands.  Or at least, I was surprised, at first.

Then again, it makes sense.  Tickets give you a tangible thing to hold on to – something that lets you feel the anticipation of an event, even without any other reminders.  It lets you have that sense of belonging to something special, even before it starts.  I am thinking back to when I was young and my parents would take me to Disneyland – the classic “E ticket” that would let me ride on one of the “cool rides“.  Even if it took me a long time to use it, holding it in my hands, making sure I hadn’t lost it, etc, gave me that thrill that comes with having a physical ticket.

So, going forward, we’re going to offer our patrons an option:  for those who want to continue as we have done, we will send you your confirmation email and you can print it off OR you can request that we send you a ticket and we’ll send it off to you.

Communications or “How to use backstage chatter to improve overall market message”

SM Heather had a brilliant tool that she employed throughout the production.  At the end of each rehearsal (for the start, weekly towards the end), she would send an email to the production staff – the technical director, props, costumes, music, etc) letting them know things that had developed out of that day’s rehearsal.  Whenever we found that we’d need a specific thing, we needed a set piece to survive a certain amount of force, or costumes that would have new & interesting stresses put on them, she’d include it.  When I would say “Remind me that I want to look at X”, that would get included.  It allowed the information to get farmed out to the respective areas and provided her with a simple method of follow up – if she didn’t hear from people about the message, she’d know that there was a breakdown in communication and take further steps.  It also kept the rest of the production staff up to date on what was going on in other departments than their own.  It made it easier to share that information.

Why not apply this same technique to the Producer’s job?  Perhaps not on a daily basis, but a weekly message to the cast & crew letting them know what ticket sales are like, what publicity opportunities have come up, etc.  And if we’re going to do that, why not also use it as a way to improve the quality of our social media output?  Not have the producer provide the media, but provide suggestions for ways to promote the show beyond the “Buy Tickets!” message – seed ideas for blog posts, tweets, Facebook statuses, etc.  The producer would be in a better position to massage the message and keep up to date on what information was going out for the show.  They could even coordinate cast/crew members’ input into this blog – giving a more “insider’s look” to a given production than just my voice.

It would also open up more dialogue between the cast/crew & the producer – more creative minds means more ideas of how to promote the show.  That’s no bad thing and gives the producer a larger well to tap from.

Always have a Plan B

Here’s where I get to hang my head a little and admit that I got cocky.  As you know, we had to cancel a performance because Polly – our Kate – was very ill and had been in and out of hospital a bunch that week.

There were many reasons we weren’t prepared, but the biggest was my fault – a total lack of a viable Plan B.

In previous productions, thanks to having listened to so many of the rehearsals, if one of the actors keeled over, myself or one of the other stage management crew could step in, if needs be.  Two problems with that clever bit of planning – combining someone who could pick up the lines as quickly as needed with a body that could fit in Kate’s dresses.  Oops.

I shudder to think what would have happened if it had been Nick instead of Polly – I can fit in Nick’s costumes, but I don’t think many people will ever truly believe I’m a man (and the rest of the SM team were all women and even more voluptuous than myself…)

We’ve come up with a small list of ways to avoid that in the future, while addressing the concerns of having volunteer actors. Everything from straight understudies to having the multiple actors learn the same bits and then have set dates that they’ll swap roles came out.  It was a hard lesson to learn, but hopefully, we learned it the hard way and won’t make that mistake again – Plan B – it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law – Murphy’s still out there and Plan B just makes sense.

There were other things that came out of the post mortem meeting, but these were three of the biggies.  Hopefully sharing the lessons we learned help other theatre companies just starting out.

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Hello all,

Unfortunately, I have some bad news. Tonight’s performance of The Taming of the Shrew has regrettably been canceled.  Polly Edwards, our Kate, has been in and out of the hospital 3 times in the past couple days. She’s being taken care of now, but unfortunately, Shrew isn’t much of a show without Kate.  She believes that she’ll be better enough for the Friday & Saturday performances, but is simply unable to perform tonight.

If you have purchased tickets, please contact our boxoffice to either reschedule to one of our remaining performances, or to request your money refunded.

Thank you for your understanding and we all wish Polly speedy recovery.

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A lovely lady who came to see the show last week emailed me today with a link.

She had put together a promo video for Shrew with some of the post-show commentary from folks.

This is possibly one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me.  I am extremely touched and honoured that she spent her time doing this and Rhonda -- I meant it when I said that on behalf of the cast & crew, thank you so much for this….

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One week down! And by all reports, the show was well received by all who saw it. We even had a quick review by the Kitchener Record, which was lovely to see.

However, in a situation we knew was coming, I had to stand in for Brian. He has a band, d’Archangel, that had gotten a gig in Toronto for Saturday night.  I was able to sub in for him, so we decided to run with that.

My biggest personal concern was the fight at the start of act 4.  I had done it a couple times during rehearsal, but ultimately, I am no Brian and didn’t want to screw up.  I drilled it at home for most of last week, drilled it with the cast for Friday & Saturday and eventually left it to the cast & fight director to see if it was safe.  They said it would be fine.

It was.  It was slower than they normally do it, but it was good and acting made up for some of the rest.

What I didn’t expect to have to be afraid of was Nick.

Nick & Brian have a scene in the show that involves a plate of food.  Petruchio (Nick) tastes the food on the plate that Joseph (Brian) is holding and proclaims it burnt.  They have some business to do with the plate of food and Nick & I had gone over it a few times to make sure I knew the cue lines for the various bits.

When we got to the show itself, Nick bit off a piece of the chicken (that was doubling as mutton) and starts to proclaim it as burnt.  He realises that he has bit off too much and is having trouble talking.  It is entirely within character to spit it out and then continue his line.  The decision he makes is to spit it back on the plate (no one eats from it again that scene) and go on.

He misses the plate.  Pretty much entirely.

He didn’t miss me.  From my eyebrows to my clevage, there was chicken.  Fortunately, neither of us wound up giggling (that happened a LOT later).  It did mean that much of the rest of the business wound up by the wayside and gratefully, the audience didn’t notice that it was something different.

When I got off stage and into the green room, Nick was there already and looking pretty sheepish.  When he explained what happened, I had to smother giggles to make sure the audience didn’t hear us (the show was still going on).  I was still fishing chicken out of my cleavage 10 minutes later.  Much teasing happened on both sides and I had a new nickname now.

I love live theatre.  Stuff like this makes it always a challenge and rarely boring.

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Remember I said I love working with talented people?

Original music by Dave O’Grady, photos by Sean M. Puckett, animation by Rob LeGood

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Just in case you don’t follow Sean Puckett on Twitter (@catbear – NSFW), or don’t regularly go to his website (and you should!), here are the photos he took during our dress rehearsal on Monday.

They are gorgeous.

All photos copyright 2010 Sean M Puckett / TenBareToes Entertainment, all rights reserved. Performers, contact photographer for reuse rights.

Captions are Sean’s idea of fun; the play is presented with the original dialogue.

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There is something magical when things are added to a stage play. Words on paper fire the director’s imagination. Add in actors – other voices and minds – and the picture becomes clearer and more complex. Give those actors props & costumes and you start seeing less of the actor as the character takes firmer hold on them. Add lights, a set, sound and music and you can take an audience with you into another world.

Last night was the preview night for The Taming of the Shrew. There were a few glitches – biggest being the fountain’s electrics breaking unexpectedly, but the cast & crew pulled together and made magic.

I am lucky. I have amazing people to work with. Come share in that magic.

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My cast & crew rock my tiny world.  I know I keep saying that, but they really do.

Last night was the final dress rehearsal before the preview tonight.  There were a few minor glitches, but overall, it was glorious.  I spent most of the show watching as opposed to taking notes as a director.

I am so happy.  The cast took to the stage, costumes & their props like ducks to water.  Somehow, my technical crew pulled rabbits out of their hats and gave me a gorgeous stage as well as a functional fountain, the scene change hell act that’s coming together smoothly, and costumes that are truly gorgeous.

Tonight is the preview.  According to Producer Mike, we’re going to have some members of the media there. It should be fun.

I have brilliant people working with me.  I am the luckiest woman on the planet.

Come see them.  The show is brilliant – it’s fresh, lively and they are so good.

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Really, folks, when I say I get to work with some of the most incredibly talented people?

Shrew Opening – this is the opening theme for Shrew.  Listen to it.  It’s gorgeous.

I gave Dave a laundry list of pie in the sky wishes for the music.  He gave me stuff that’s beautiful.

(if anyone is a professional musician and feeling picky, also understand that I don’t have the final mastered version – this is the draft he sent me – and I love it.)

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I have had a few people email me asking for the location of the theatre.

We are performing in Elmira Theatre Company’s space at 76 Howard Ave., in Elmira.  To give you a frame of reference, I’m coming from the south west edge of Kitchener, and it takes me about 20 minutes by car.

Oh – and if you’re coming into Elmira off Arthur Street (what highway 86 turns into), then Howard Ave is the second street past the McDonald’s on your right (if you’re coming from Kitchener-Waterloo).

Perhaps, one day, we’ll have our own space, but for now, TenBareToes Entertainment’s production of The Taming of the Shrew is performing in Elmira.

Hope that helps!

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So we are a week (technically 8 days) away from the preview. This morning, Chris & I met with Gord from Elmira Theatre Company to pick up keys, do one last walk through of the space & start the load in.

Over the weekend, much work happened. Chris had a pre-build weekend which gave us all our set pieces – though the gate needs assembly (otherwise too large to transport) and the fountain needs some magic still. Mat, the set painter, got things started. What I would really like to know is why wood never looks like wood until you paint or stain it (at least on stage). Mat made doorskin look like aged weathered wooden planks. Blows my mind.

Speaking of blowing my mind, yesterday was the first time I got to see Bianca’s dresses. I asked for the delicate fashion plate. I got it. In spades. The difference between rough and willful Kate & gentle, sugar sweet Bianca will be evident from the time they walk on stage. It’s glorious.

Tonight is more painting and putting up the flats that define the stage. The aim is that Wednesday’s rehearsal has the entrances and exits where they really go & the cast has a chance to strut their stuff in the *right* space.

One more week. Get your tickets today This is going to rock.

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This July, director Anita Kilgour and her new theatre company TenBareToes Entertainment bring Shakespeare’s classic battle of the sexes, The Taming of the Shrew, to the Elmira Theatre Company.

After many years in community theatre, with sold out productions as both director and producer, Anita Kilgour realised she was looking for a company that dedicated itself to enjoying creating theatre while fostering a professional approach. TenBareToes is her attempt to achieve that goal: that community theatre should be about the sheer joy of doing theatre to entertain an audience.

“It can be simple and easy,” Kilgour says, “Take talented people, provide them an environment where people can work, but without the stress that can go with it – and let them give audiences something fun to enjoy and cherish.” This philosophy seems to be working, attracting cast and crew from several local theatre companies to her banner.

So why choose The Taming of the Shrew as the company’s inaugural production? Viewing the story through the cracked mirror of a historical romance novel, Kilgour presents a fanciful twist by bringing the story forward slightly to the age of the privateer. When asked why this choice, she responded, “Petruchio (Nicholas Oddson) doesn’t entirely follow society’s rules and niceties.  He knows what he wants, knows what he needs to do and follows that course.  He isn’t a classic polite gentleman – he’s a scoundrel.  Leaving him in the original period didn’t feel right, but the modern day didn’t feel right either. The best time for the appealing scoundrel is that wonderfully mythic time that every historical romance novel gets wrapped in.”

Kate (Polly Edwards) has also undergone some change by Kilgour.  “Kate has been played in the past as everything from the incredibly loud, cranky witch through to the modern emancipated woman.  What I wanted to highlight was Kate’s utter lack of adulthood and manners.  Kate is a spoiled brat.”

Given the headstrong nature of both characters, Anita offers this comment to address the question of Kate & Petruchio’s reconciliation at the end of the play. “Kate doesn’t ‘give in’ to Petruchio.  He doesn’t ‘tame’ her; so much as he forces her to look square in the face of her behaviour by mirroring it.  She has to address the fact that she doesn’t think of others when she demands what she wants.  She realises that she can be every bit the strong woman that she is without having to squish everyone else around her to prove it.  Kate isn’t tamed.  Kate is shown how being an adult is every bit as rewarding as being a brat – by someone who can be as much of either of those as she is.”

Performances are July 8-10, 15-17, 22-24 all at 8pm, with a special preview performance July 6 at the Elmira Theatre Company, 76 Howard Ave, Elmira.  Tickets are $18 ($9 for the preview) and can be ordered from the company website.

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Just a quick note – there’s a new gallery for Shrew with the candids that I’ve been getting from rehearsals now that we’re starting to get costumes.

Please – be gentle – I’m no Sean Puckett…

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Hello all,

Today was a rough morning – full day of rehearsal yesterday and then an evening of personal obligations left me with little sleep.  Call me one grumpy director.

Then I opened an email from Dave-the-composer.  It had all the music he’s worked on this past week for me (11 different pieces, where he’d taken my “I don’t know ANYTHING about music” ramblings and had turned them into gorgeous pieces of music.  There’s some minor tweaks I’ve asked him to make, but for the most part, I have my themes for Lucentio/Bianca, Petruchio & Kate.  They’re gorgeous.  The request I’d made to have a blended theme for Petruchio & Kate – something I figured I was asking him to stand on his head and walk on water for me for – not only exists, but makes me happy in ways I cannot begin to explain.

Doing a show from the ground up like this is hard – harder than I had originally anticipated (for who would take risks if they truly understood all the pitfalls they would face?), but moments like this, where I get to see the results come and lift me up make this a risk I’m gloriously glad I took.

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Anyone out there who’s looking to get pregnant or have a sweetie get pregnant and having ANY trouble?  Lemme know – apparently there’s an easy cure.

Come work with me on Shrew.

My costumer, Adrienne, has a baby – she’s now 6 months old – pregnant shortly after we started talking about the show.

My TD & Petruchio?  Both had babies in April.

And NOW – my producer and the Tailor in the show?  They’re pregnant too!

I’m thinking I need to bottle whatever’s going on and sell it as a pregnancy cure all.

I’m really pleased for them – Mike, Carrie – welcome to the best and craziest next part of your lives.

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You have to understand – there’s a reason I direct.  There is a rush I get when things start to come together.  When the characters become more visible than the actors; when the chemistry on stage starts to sizzle; when the actors start riffing off each other – that’s when I can feel my heart rate elevate and my breath comes faster.  Tonight, that state was more common than not.

Not too coincidentally, tonight was the first night that we had costumes.  Not all of them, but they’ve started arriving (and oh sweet baby gods, they are wonderful).  Tranio (Ciaran) suddenly was a couple inches  taller and every bit the cock of the walk that I wanted him to be – wearing his new coat and apparently having 3 tails to his coat gives him that extra oomph.  Petruchio (Nick) walks differently (as expected) when he’s wearing his costume pants as opposed to shorts or jeans – the strut changed.  I think my favourite of the night was Kate (Polly) – twirling when she wasn’t in character and being more aware of her physicality in a big poofy skirt and corset.

It was glorious.  More of the characters came through – I can’t begin to explain clearly the difference. There were still line flubs (a month before – yah, that still happens) and blocking mishaps.  There were also inspired moments of improv, improvements on what we had before and just more energy overall.

I got pictures – I’ll put some up tomorrow (for now I must get some sleep!)

There are reasons I direct.  Getting to be there when the show starts to switch from lines & blocking to the organics of a story is absolutely one of them.

Get your tickets – this is going to be a sweet show.

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Rehearsals continue apace. Started seeing the characters showing up amidst my actors, which is a good and glorious thing. I know that sounds silly, given that we’re talking about the actors I’ve been looking at in rehearsal for over a month now, but hear me out – there’s a point where they stop being Nick and Polly and John. They stop their own mannerisms and yet they don’t. Where the essence of who their characters are begins to show and instead of the lines coming out and the actor moving in the right blocking, you get organic movement & discussion. They become the characters and stop being the actors.  It’s one of the moments I live for as a director.

I should find a large container or suitcase for rehearsals this week.  Costumes will be arriving and I can’t wait to see what people look like.  I had asked Costumes to get them to me for the start of June so the actors would have time rehearsing in the clothes.   Ultimately, you walk differently in a pair of shorts and a tank top than you do in a long bustled skirt & a bodice, or a t-shirt & jeans vs. 18c pants, vest & coat.  Giving the actors more time with the costumes, to let them get really comfortable with it, makes the most sense to me.  It should be interesting to see them.  Must remember to bring camera…

Had a music discussion with Dave last night – if all goes well, and I get timings to him by Friday evening, he’ll have a draft of everything, save one thing that’s a “if you get to it” item, for me by the end of the weekend.  I’ve asked him to pull a musical rabbit out of his hat with regards to some of the music, so I’m looking forward to hearing what comes out of this.  Being able to have the music finished will be another weight off my mind.

Meanwhile, Chris has been busy tinkering with some of the set design for the show – given that it takes place in Padua, he’s been working on something to give that Italian flair to the set, ideally without making a mess.  It should be an interesting experiment if nothing else.  The one thing I know about Chris – if he says that the set will withstand the actors flinging themselves about on it, it will.  The last set of his I helped to pull down had a bed with 40+ 4″ lag bolts holding it together (NOTHING was going to make that bed come down…).

Don’t forget to order your tickets for Shrew – we’re a month away!

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As a filler, because I’m really crazy busy today with the Real World work, I present the photos that Sean M. Puckett took at the May 5 rehearsal (sadly, we were missing Jonathan C. Dietrich as he took care of his wife who’d become ill, so Lisa Hagen, one of our ASMs filled in for him).

They do occasionally drive me crazy, but being able to work with the kind of incredibly talented people is one of the coolest things in my life.

Original images copyright Sean M Puckett. Other images copyright the original artist. All rights reserved except those expressly granted.

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I don’t think I have ever done a show that didn’t develop a “show plague”. For all that we take care of ourselves and we’re all grownups, stuff happens.

Shrew is no different. Last week, Nick texted me saying he was going to be home thanks to a burgeoning bug. Tonight, he was at rehearsal, but this started the cascade of “I’m sick” messages – Costumes Adrienne has a cold she’s recovering from, Brigid & Adam are both fending off throat issues and I’m sure there are others in the offing. One of the dangers in working in your Real Life job and then working in the evening preparing and rehearsing is you occasionally get sick – and when one of you get sick, more do.

At least it’s happening now, earlier in the process – it could be opening week.

To my cast & crew – get what rest you can and get better. I am by no means done with you!

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(Today’s author is Jonathan C. Dietrich – Grumio from the production.  I asked him to tell me a story about his acting experiences for the blog.  Enjoy!)

I recently realized that the summer of 2010 will mark my twenty fifth year of doing community theatre. Along the way, I have learned how actors need to be able to deal with the unexpected.

When I was 10, I joined a youth company in Stratford, and our first production was Oliver. During the scene in question, a fellow actor was required to deliver a couple of heated lines, then turn and storm down a flight of stairs leading off the front of the stage. On one evening, the scene had taken place a little closer to the edge of the stage than ever before, and when he turned, he stepped right off the stage! There was a huge gasp from audience, cast and crew. My fellow actor quickly stood, looked up at the characters he was just fighting with and bellowed, “And fix those blasted stairs!” It was perfect. He stayed in character, accepted and acknowledged the situation, and incorporated it into the show.

While I was studying Drama at the University of Waterloo, I played the Porter in a production of Macbeth featuring Jonathan Goad as Macbeth. Young Siward cautiously approaches the stage from the audience. Waiting for him there is a very confident Macbeth, laughing and swinging his sword around. Just as Siward stepped on the stage, and the fight about the commence, Jonathan’s sword slipped from his hand sliding upstage away from the audience. Without hesitation Jonathan lets out a great laugh as if it was planned. Without taking his eyes off of the enemy, he both taunted him and retrieved his weapon.

In my first production with Kitchener Waterloo Little Theatre, I learned that this type of quick thinking is not always easy. I was playing in a production of the Hand that Cradles the Rock, and it features two scenes in which I was required to answer a phone call. The first call occurs quite early in the show, and the second much closer to the end. It being theatre, there was not actually a working phone, rather just a prop and an off stage ring.

One evening, after picking up the phone for the first call I confidently started carrying on my half of the conversation for the second phone call. It wasn’t until I was done that call that I realized what had happened: I had just cut out the middle half of the play! My fellow actor on stage was stunned. Stage management, who was trying to follow along in their script, was frantically turning pages. There was an awkward silence that felt like forever, then we worked it out. The two of us on stage carried on with a couple of improvised lines followed by the lines that should have happened after the first call. After stage management had turned back a bunch of pages, we were back on track.

I felt horrible, and was sure that I ruined the show for the audience. Afterwords I learned that few had realised what had happened, and most had chalked it up to a bit of bad writing, and maybe a small slip up on one of the actor’s parts. whew

Since then, I have honed some of my improvisation skills with the help of our local improv comedy troupe Theatre on the Edge, where the unexpected is the expected. I have also had the joy of playing in two British style pantomimes where the audience is encouraged to be unexpected. Even when you are prepared for the unexpected, you can be surprised. During one performance of KWLT’s recent production of Aladdin, there was a technical issue.

I was in drag playing Aladdin’s mother, it’s a Panto tradition, and gave the cue for the music to start for my rendition of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”. There was silence. I addressed the audience, “This is a great number. You’ll love it. We’ll do it a capella if we need to”. After another few seconds with no sound, I looked up to the booth. There was a thumbs up, and I started. The real magic happened when the entire male chorus entered and provided the orchestral part with “ba ba ba da da”s. We were all having so much fun: the audience, the actors on stage, and the rest of the cast and crew who crammed into the wings to watch! It was honestly the most magical moment I have ever had on stage, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the unexpected.

Hopefully nothing too unexpected comes up during the run of Taming of the Shrew, but if it does I hope I can handle it with grace and style. Here’s to another twenty five years.

- Jonathan C. Dietrich

(@jcdietrich)