Tag Archives: Work

Craft Services

Hourglass Sweet Hourglass --my home-away-from-home for a million seconds of gameplay, quite a bit of pre-production time, and many, many Craft Services meals.

Hourglass Sweet Hourglass

On a TV or film production like the big budget game show I worked on, there’s often no practical way to leave for meals while you’re working. Our workdays were gruelingly long: 12- to 16-hour shifts were not uncommon, with no days off. The production site was, as most are, set up as its own little city. This one was built in a former car dealership on the far west side of New York City, with a four-story-tall, open-air set built on the roof. The site didn’t have had all the comforts of home, but it had all the necessities–including a medical station, a office-supply closet that would rival a small Staples, and a wardrobe area where one could get a change of clothes.

And, of course, food.

Catering on such a production is referred to as Craft Services, since the food is served to those who work in the various technical and creative crafts: wardrobe, hair, make-up, lighting, stage hands, camera operators, and so on. From the writers’ office where I worked, I could see the caterers continually replenishing the coffee urns and snack trays, and setting up for a new meal even as the last one was barely finished. Production ran around the clock with a team of hundreds. Some meals were better than others–and, as production wound down, it was pretty clear we were being served leftovers–but overall we were very well cared for. I can’t imagine how large the catering budget must have been, but it was money well spent.

This spring, I’m working for a theatre company that’s producing a big, fun musical comedy. Everybody is working incredibly hard to make the show wonderful. And that hard work is appreciated. Our producer–a cast member’s mother–sees to that. It isn’t Producer Mom’s job to raise the money to keep the lights on, or write the checks that keep the staff employed, but she does whatever is needed to keep things running smoothly. And she feeds us.

On Sunday, I’d had a full morning of church work, and just a little time at home before going back to church for an afternoon service–and then off to the theatre for a long work-through of our show. I wasn’t looking forward to another late night and another late dinner, but it turned out I didn’t have to worry. Producer Mom had prepared a buffet for the company.  The table was bursting with gorgeous chicken sandwiches and fresh mozzarella and tomato ones, as well as homemade spinach, quinoa, and orzo salads with lots of fresh vegetables and dressings as bright as the sunshine I’d driven through to get to rehearsal. And she’d assembled a centerpiece more beautiful than anything I’d ever seen on a Craft Services table. (I tried to get a photo of the table, but the hungry actors and staff devoured every crumb before I could get back to the table with a camera.)

It was a miserable-long day. We all left the theatre bleary-eyed and head-spinny from the work we’d done and the problem spots we’d identified for the next few rehearsals. But no one left hungry.

Even on the longest and hardest days on the game show, I was having the time of my life. The musical I’m working on now might not be as overwhelming an experience as that, but we’re all learning a lot and doing good work that we can be proud of. We’re all grateful for the chance to work together. And we’re very grateful for our Producer Mom and the service she lovingly provides us as we ply our varied crafts.

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If you have to have Sunday dinner behind a keyboard, it should be in the company of amenable and talented people–and it should be as tasty as this.

Hot Dancing, Cold Cereal

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I did not want another sandwich.  I’d had a sandwich for lunch, while driving from a performance to another rehearsal. Immediately following that rehearsal I had to drive back to the site of the performance for an all-evening rehearsal. No time for dinner between.  But not another sandwich, and certainly not another sandwich while driving. Things aren’t so bad as they were once, when at the end of a multi-week stretch of classes and rehearsals I was asked what I wanted for dinner, and I yelled, “I don’t care, but I have to use a fork!”

I packed a cup of oatmeal, some fruit, and some granola, figuring I could use the theatre kitchen’s microwave to heat it during a five-minute break.

I forgot the kitchen would be locked after business hours.

I could have waited until rehearsal ended and I drove home to use my own microwave, but dinner at 11 p.m. seemed like a bad idea. So, during a bit of downtime while the choreographer fixed some dance steps, I had dinner.

The blackberries were refreshingly tart and bursting with juice; the granola was nutty and salty-sweet. And the room-temperature oatmeal? Fortunately, steel-cut oats never get mushy or pasty. This serving had a little more crunch than when it’s been heated, but it wasn’t bad at all. I won’t go for cold oatmeal as a routine breakfast–or even as a routine rehearsal dinner–but it’s nice to know there’s another option that isn’t a sandwich in the car.

Rehearsal went well, by the way. We got a great deal accomplished. For two weeks out from opening, the last night in the rehearsal room before we move into the theatre, we were right where we should be.  The cast did good, solid work. It’s hard to remember to act, and to sing well, when you’re executing complicated dance steps at the same time.

Heck, sometimes it’s hard to remember to pack a spoon.

(Con)Fusion Cuisine

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When I packed her lunch I put aside a couple of things in a sack for my own, but I didn’t really think through the day. Then, after a busy morning at home I needed to get out the door fast.  I looked in the sack I’d sort-of-packed. There was protein. There was fruit. There was a hearty evening snack to eat during a rehearsal break. But no vegetables. There was only time to grab the first green thing in the crisper and hope it would work out. 

Thus it was that, at lunchtime, I found myself with pizza and asparagus. The former was leftover from a few evenings ago; the latter hadn’t been cooked yet, but were only few hours shy of their sell-by date. The pizza reheated nicely enough in the toaster oven. The asparagus, wrapped in a moist paper towel, steamed in the microwave. I ate standing up, while filing choir music and watching a liturgical-music documentary. It was not a fine dining experience, but it could have been worse. The pizza was nearly as good as it had been when it was first baked. The asparagus had enough crispness left to satisfy my craving for greens. It was an odd combination, but not unpalatably weird. 

Keep your Tex-Mex. Your French-Chinese. Your eel, lettuce, and tomato hand roll. I’ll take a slice of pizza and something green. Maybe I’ll even put the green thing on the pizza.

Unless it’s okra.  Or canned peas. That would just be wrong.

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Pizza and asparagus look prettier as a watercolor.

A Fork in the Road, a Bowl in the Office

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During the first Great Sorting, we realized that we liked her flatware better than mine. My set was perfectly good, but we didn’t have room in the kitchen for both.  It went into a box in storage. When we knew that none of our friends who were moving or unexpectedly refurnishing a house needed it, we sent that box to a second-hand store.

Well, not all of it.  We each kept a place setting. One knife, fork, and spoon was designated for each of our offices.  We’ve also each kept a little dinnerware: I’ve got a big bowl that’s perfect for salad, soup, or oatmeal, and is wide enough to work as a plate, too. She’s got a smaller plate and bowl in hers. Between us, we have a huge pile of cloth napkins, so we usually have one of those in the office as well, and bring it home for laundering.

We eat at least one meal at our desks, most days, and some days two or three.  There’s nothing wrong with going out for a workday meal. Taking some time away from the office is a good thing. But it gets pricey if it’s an everyday occurrence. Economics aside, though, we like the meals we bring from home. We know what’s in them, and what’s not.

We also like not having to dispose of plastic cutlery or paper plates or napkins. There’s nothing wrong with using a sandwich’s wrapper as a placemat, or eating a salad from the plastic container in which it was carried to work. It takes a little extra time to wash the dishes, and to find a place in the office where they can be stored. But there is something a bit more civilized about using proper dinnerware. It makes lunch-at-the-office feel more like a meal and less like a re-fueling stop during a 500 mile road race. And it reminds us of home. These days, we aren’t at home together as often as we’d like. Our matching flatware makes it a little more like we’re sharing a meal.

Ah, well. Back to work.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Pasta

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It had been a whirlwind week, followed by a busy weekend leading into another week that’ll be more of the same. Major events are kicking up in her organization, and rehearsals and performances fill my evenings. Dinners together will be the exception rather than the rule. It’s easy to get focused on what has to be done at work and then discover a load of clothes put in the washer on Tuesday hasn’t been moved to the dryer until Friday. Or that we’ve driven past the market while holding the shopping list.

We remembered lunch, though. She had it nearly ready by the time I got home. All that was left was to grate the cheese I’d just brought–after I remembered where I was going and circled back for it. Pasta was bubbling. Cream simmered in a saucepan, flecked with perky strands of lemon zest and dark green rosemary. I squeezed the lemons for her before she realized that the recipe called for zest but not juice. That’s okay; I’ll make lemon soda sometime soon. She stirred in the cheese, steamed some asparagus to add, and brought everything together. The sauce was beautifully balanced between tart citrus, rich cream, and salty-sharp parmesan. A sprinkle of cayenne and a few grinds of black pepper contributed a little warmth, and the asparagus brought its unique earthiness. Nothing overwhelmed another–which is good, since we were both a little overwhelmed by life.

The recipe she was following didn’t include the asparagus, but I’m glad we did. Vegetables are always welcome. I’m sure we’ll try this again someday, perhaps with a little less cream and many more vegetables, as a pasta primavera. It’s time for that sort of thing, even if the thermometer doesn’t quite agree and there’s still snow on the ground. It might even be pleasant enough to linger over lunch on the deck. Not today, though, but that’s just as well; we had only enough time to clean up after lunch before going our separate ways for evening events.

The time it takes to make a simple meal is always well-spent, and most certainly healthier than speaking into an intercom and having someone hand a sack of burgers to us through a window. Even when the meal is a bowl of pasta and cheese.

Just a Little Something

There was no dinner at the country house. It was a rehearsal night for me, and the group I was working with threw themselves a little first-night-of-the-season party. I ate a couple bites of cheese and crackers. She met a friend to chat after work and grabbed a bagel for the train ride home. But that was her lunch, apparently, as her all-day meeting had not taken a break long enough for her to fetch the lunch that was in the office fridge.  When I found her–having walked home from the train since I was late with the rehearsal stragglers–she was unhappily poring over her laptop, processing the all-day meeting notes into her tasks for the next several weeks.

I left her working and returned from the kitchen with two little ramekins, each containing a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a smear of peanut butter, a drizzle of chocolate syrup, a dab of whipped cream, and a sprinkle of granola: a little salty, a little bittersweet, a little creamy, a little crunchy, cold on the tongue on a warm summer night. And, of course, some carbs and protein.

I won’t pretend this was a balanced meal. (What was I going to do, top the sundaes with strips of grilled chicken, carrot, and green pepper?) But it was comforting, and not too indulgent. And nobody was cranky afterward.