The day before my husband arrived in Toronto for our weekend together, Danny, Michael and I had Personal Survival Techniques training (Alonso is too cool for us 😎 Just kidding… he’s done a contract with DCL before and already has this certification). We got on a bus at 5:50 am along with others in our entertainment cohort and drove to a college campus where we did the course. The portion of the class we did in the pool ended up being a fun team bonding activity, especially when it came to righting an upside-down life raft. We got video footage of each person successfully flipping the raft while the rest of the class would cheer. Then we did a lifeboat simulation and a written exam. We all passed, and had a great (albeit long) day.
Our PST class with our instructor (far left)
Finally, the day came for my husband to visit. I took the train to the airport so I could meet him there. I was so happy to see his face in front of me and not on a screen! We only had a short time together, but we managed to make the most of it. Of course, I had to take him to Lee so he could try the amazing food for himself. The next day, we went to a Blue Jays game and went up CN tower to see all of Toronto from a bird’s eye view. Being from LA (Go Dodgers), my husband was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get to the stadium on foot. In between being tourists, we watched the first two Spider-Man movies, which I had never seen. The original trilogy has been on our watch list since we saw Spider Man: No Way Home. I loved them, although I was glad Steven had seen them already so he could warn me when a particularly horror movie-esque moment was approaching. One of things I was most looking forward to during his stay was going out for meals with my musician friends. Those of you who have ever had a long-distance partner know that experiencing new things and building new friendships can feel melancholy and incomplete without them. Talking on the phone about it is nothing compared to how wonderful it feels to share it with them in person.
Of course the weekend had to come to an end, so I said goodbye to Steven at the train station and delved into the next week. I was proud of myself this week because I finally addressed the health concerns that had been causing me anxiety since I arrived in Toronto. Dealing with new medical clinics and new insurance in a new place can be difficult, and health anxiety mixed with grief due to the sudden loss of a loved one is no joke. After some scheduling snafus and grumbling about insurance being unnecessarily complicated, I was able to get a prescription at a walk-in clinic that helped me quickly. It was relieving to have some answers, and empowering to know I did it on my own.
Back at the studio, the band continued to chip away at our cover sets, working in some new genres. We also got to watch run-throughs of most of the other shows, which is always exciting! I enjoy watching all of the other incredible performers shine.
Then Friday arrived - my birthday. I woke up feeling a confusing mix of emotions. It was my first time ever waking up on my birthday completely alone. Everything that happened in the year since my last birthday was weighing on my mind, and I wanted to stay curled up inside. That soon changed once I got myself dressed and went to the studio. I brought cookies I had baked and a small chocolate cake from my parents, and then several dozen cupcakes (which I later found out were sent by my aunt) were waiting for me when I arrived. This made for quite the conversation starter when I spread everything out in the green room! My three band mates left birthday cards and Timbits (oh sweet Timbits, I miss you so) on the keyboard for me when I went into our rehearsal space. The mood I was in that morning morphed into happiness and gratitude. Coincidentally, the cast organized a trip to see Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios that evening, so I got to experience my first circus performance. It was an astounding performance. The energy in the room was electric as it was opening weekend for the cast after years of Covid closures!
We took advantage of our last free weekend in Toronto by taking a train and then a bus to Niagara Falls. Bucket list item, check ✅ We admired the falls from the top and had lunch with an incredible view before going down to the base to take in all their majesty. Despite the sea of tourists in yellow ponchos, it was lovely - and quite loud! The most interesting part to me was the dichotomy between this natural wonder of the world and all of the attractions just down the street from it. After seeing the falls, we walked toward Clifton Hill, which is a long, sloping street somewhat reminiscent of Hollywood Boulevard. It is loud, colorful, and a bit dirty, with every cheap attraction you could imagine. The three of us bought fun passes for the day and had a BLAST doing everything that was included: ferris wheel, dinosaur mini golf, arcade games, “rides” (two of them 3D movie screens, one a low-budget cross between Haunted Mansion and Astro Blasters), and a horrendously amazing wax museum. We finished out the day perfectly with beers at Niagara Brewing.
Our final week in Toronto was filled with final runs and departure meetings, but my two favorite highlights had nothing to do with work. First, I got to go out to dinner with my friend Mel, who I met online during the Animal Crossing Obsession of 2020. Despite playing the game much less frequently now that all of us are back to work, we’ve stayed in touch. It was so nice to see her! She took me to a cute little Italian restaurant with delicious pasta, and we had a great time catching up. Then, my musician friends and I got to see the most insane concert I’ve been to in quite some time. Saxophonist Joshua Redman reunited the band he put together for his debut album MoodSwing in 1994 (Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride, and Brian Blade) to do a new album that was released in 2020, and I happened to see online that they would be in Toronto while we were there. I immediately jumped to buy tickets. Brad Mehldau sadly did not end up performing that evening due to illness, but Gerald Clayton subbed in for him. It was an incredible evening of music that sparked my love for this art form in a way I haven’t felt in quite a bit. My favorite aspect of the set was how different each member’s compositions were, and yet how beautifully they complimented one another.
One of my favorite things about Toronto is the juxtaposition of old and new architecture. This was perfectly exemplified inside the Royal Conservatory of Music building where the concert was held.
Me being me, I left all of my packing for the last day, but still managed to get it done. I did some shopping (including a new suitcase because I realized I had the allowance for an extra checked bag), collected all my leftover non-perishable groceries to bring to the studio for the next cast, and got all of my belongings organized. Our bus came to pick us up from my apartment building the following afternoon, and then it was time for our journey to the Netherlands!
As of this week we'll have been in Toronto for a month! I'm feeling much more settled in here as the days go by.
In terms of music making for Week 2, we wrapped up our first show and started work on a second show that I don't play in. I went back and forth between sitting in on rehearsals to get familiar with the material in the event I need to sub, and using a small music room to practice my solo material. It was great to watch my friends play something different alongside some of the vocalists and dancers. Everyone is incredibly skilled and versatile. At the end of the week, we went out to a local bar to hear forró, which is a Brazilian dance and genre of music. It was a ton of fun hearing something new and even learning the dance myself. The next day our music team treated us to dinner at Lee, celebrity chef Susur Lee's restaurant. The food was absolutely incredible, as was the service. Every menu item had so many delicious and unexpected flavors. I've only had a handful of dining experiences like that in my life!
Week 3 was our last week with our music team before they headed home. The next time we see them will be on the ship in Germany. We continued working on our show material and also started putting together some cover band music to play as a group. It can be a little spooky to go into a new musical situation with people you've never collaborated with before, but so far we work extremely well together, which is a good sign for how we'll continue to work together on board. We also got to watch runs of two of the other shows, and they were phenomenal. I honestly got emotional picturing them in full production and imagining guests' reactions. One of the days this week we had our weekly PCR testing in the morning and then a long break until rehearsal in the afternoon, so our guitarist Dave took us to Fran's for breakfast. This diner is right across from the iconic Massey Hall, so of course we had to grab a picture.
Our last day with our music team was also our last day with Dave, so we celebrated with some donuts that Clay brought in to share with everyone. Going into Week 4, we kept working on our cover and solo material, rehearsed our show music a few times, and did a lot more safety training classes. In our off time, we went back to our favorite ramen place, visited the Art Gallery of Toronto, and simply hung out and had drinks together (and I finally had some poutine that wasn't from Wendy's). These have been some of my favorite experiences here so far, connecting with the people I'll be spending most of my time on board with and exploring a new place together.
On a more personal note, I've been working on taking better care of myself these past few weeks. I was on such a high during our first week that I started to crash once we got used to our routine. I didn't become aware of it until we started working on cover material as a group and I started singing some high-intensity songs after not singing very often for two weeks. Singing felt more effortful for me than usual, and I was consistently tired. I started to slow down and think about why that could be happening. In the short term, my body had just gone through a lot of change with traveling, a new schedule, and more eating and drinking that came with being social. Thinking more broadly though, the past year of my life has been full of big changes and painful losses. My tolerance for resilience has definitely been tested. I'm most prone to anxiety spiraling any time I am not distracted by other things, which is typically when I'm driving or in bed before falling asleep. As a result, my relationship with sleep has suffered this year, and sometimes I will keep myself up well past when my body signals a need for rest in fear of intrusive thoughts. Cue having a space all to myself for the first time in a while and... you see where this is going. I've been working on slowing down and being gentler with myself in ways that are realistic for me. For example, being more mindful about what I eat or drink - not necessarily avoiding "junk" altogether but perhaps avoiding ordering a second cup of coffee on an empty stomach. Getting ready for bed earlier, and giving myself permission to take a nap the next day when I don't. Adhering to the boundaries I set for myself regarding social media (this one is the toughest for me). Making sure I set aside time to get a solid vocal warm-up in. And most importantly, being more mindful in general of how I'm feeling and recognizing the stories I tell myself. I don't nail all of this every day, but I feel better as the days go on. My voice feels freer and I feel good knowing I can show up and do my best.
In my free time I've been doing a ton of walking around the city, mainly whenever I've needed to go shopping but also just to get my body moving. When I'm not outside, I've been enjoying cooking for myself and rekindling my love for some of my interests. I spent hours on Animal Crossing this past Sunday after not playing for months and it took me right back to Summer 2020. I've also been spending a lot of time going through my wedding photos which we received a few weeks ago and organizing them into albums. My only way of connecting with others over the photos so far has been sending links to family and posting on social media, so I'm looking forward to looking through them with my husband... when he gets here this weekend! As much as I'm proud of us for being pros at the long distance thing, it's always difficult. I cannot wait to give him a hug in person and show him around my temporary new home.
Some shots from my solo walks, and a peaceful moment in my apartment.
My experience here so far has been both rewarding and healing. Putting all the skills I've learned to the test in this gig and realizing how much I benefit from them is rewarding. Feeling free to be myself with new people and reflecting on how much I've grown is healing. I'm especially grateful for how kind everyone has been here. It's an honor to be part of a team like this and I have to pinch myself daily to remember that it's real.
Currently, I am in Toronto, Ontario, which is where DCL's rehearsal facility is. It is such a thrill to be here after months of planning and wondering what this would be like. In just one week, I've gone from flying to Canada and meeting total strangers to making great friends and performing a full run of our show.
My journey started last Monday, March 7, in the wee small hours of the morning. My husband woke up with me at 3:30 am to take me to LAX for my 7:30 am departure. While we've done the long distance thing before, it's been a while since we've had to, and lurching towards the airline terminal took me right back to our airport drop-offs in college. As excited as I was to head to Toronto, saying goodbye was definitely the hardest part, especially since we weren't sure if and how often he'd be able to visit. We just booked him a trip to Toronto for a few days in April, so I'm looking forward to showing him around my new city.
The flight itself was smooth and easy. Being the tall person that I am, I did not regret spending a bit extra on the exit row. Danny, the drummer for the Wish, happened to be on the same flight as me. We met virtually via Zoom the week before, so he recognized me after we got through customs. I was glad to meet someone right away as it made navigating the airport and finding a car to our apartments a little less intimidating. DCL provides housing for all of the entertainment cast members while we are rehearsing in Toronto. I'm on the 11th floor of my building in a beautiful apartment. Most of the cast members have roommates, but being the only woman out of five musicians, I ended up with my own space. After dropping off my things, I walked around the corner to get a sandwich and some snacks - and, being from Los Angeles and Miami, I marveled at the cold weather. I ended up being pretty hungry again as I was headed to sleep since my body was still on Pacific Time, so I ordered Wendy's on DoorDash. You can order poutine as a side at Wendy's here, but I have yet to have the real deal. That's on my list for this week!
On Tuesday, I kept to myself most of the day. The musicians had a health and safety meeting on Zoom, then I unpacked a little more, got to work on some of my online Disney employee training, and ordered some groceries on InstaCart. Then on Wednesday the magic started - our first day of rehearsal. I walked to the rehearsal facility for the first time and met the rest of the musicians - bassist Alonso, guitarist Dave (a local player from Toronto temporarily subbing in), and another pianist, Michael. We were given a tour of the facility, which is amazing and incredibly detailed. The whole facility has pops of bright color throughout, and the instrumental music playing in the halls instantly boosts your mood. Each of the studios has a letter that is also associated with a Disney character, such as Studio "C" for Cinderella. One of my favorite details was the music rooms near the front desk named after famous Disney composers Alan Menken and The Sherman Brothers. Of course, Mickey appears often in different parts of the building. I was giddy as I sat in the Sherman music room to warm up. I couldn't believe I was actually there! In the afternoon, we had our first music rehearsal with our music director, Clay. We got to listen through the music for our show and play together for the first time. These musicians are incredible players and I feel lucky to make music with them! We had a great vibe together right away and had quality conversations while we weren't rehearsing.
The rest of my week consisted of lots of rehearsing, getting to know the other musicians better (including regular coffee runs after lunch), cooking for myself, more online classes, unpacking and settling in, exploring the streets near my apartment, editing TikToks, and enjoying the snow! Saturday was the first day putting our show together with the rest of the cast of singers, actors and dancers. All of the people here are friendly and welcoming, and top-notch professionals to boot. There were a few times while we were rehearsing that I felt more like myself than I have in a while.
Saturday night we went to a bar (remember doing that?) and Sunday night we went out for some delicious ramen which was perfect for the cold weather. We kicked off week 2 of rehearsal yesterday with a full run of our show for the creative team and an audience of cast members from the other productions. The energy in the room was electric. I can't wait to perform it for the guests on board!