Not-so-Springlike, Not-so-Breaklike

Hello everyone!

I’m back from “Spring Break”.  I put this phrase in quotation marks because it was neither Spring, nor a Break.  I did make a trip up to Quebec with my best beloved just to get away from town for a while.  Think about that: Canada.  In March.  It was very cold.

It was, however, absolutely beautiful.  We got to see the Hôtel de Glace (the only ice hotel built in North America by the way; it’s built and re-built every year in January and only open for a few months.  They build it differently every year so each experience is one-of-a-kind.  Yes you can actually stay the night; no we didn’t; and after being there for a few hours I’m extremely happy with that decision since brrr it was COLD).  The rivers

View from the old city walls

View from the old city walls

were almost completely frozen over, if not solid enough to spot trucks driving over them.  We got to see the ice flows (just beautiful) and the sugar loaf at Montmercy falls.  All in all, being in the old city was like being in Europe; complete with getting to practice my French skills (…there’s nothing like the opportune moment to realize that you don’t remember the word for “check” as in “may we have the check, please?”… it’s “chèque” by the way… ain’t that embarrassing?)  This mini-vacation definitely wasn’t a “spring-like” pursuit; but the added bonus is that it was SO BLOODY COLD that when we returned, even the Massachusetts I-won’t-ever-give-up winter felt warm by comparison.  Temperatures have decided to plummet today and we’re expecting more snow on Wednesday.  Because New England is a vicious, vindictive, vermin.

It also wasn’t much of a break.  Though I did take a long weekend away, when I returned there was a backlog of e-mails, projects, lesson plans, and various things which required my attention.  I spent the tail half of the week scrambling to get back on top of things before classes started again (today).  I also managed to book two more classes to teach this semester on top of my current coarse load (my OSHER class, of course, and I’m also going to be teaching stage combat workshops for the kids over at Charlestown Working Theatre… this is extremely exciting because what could be more fun than spending a few hours every week teaching kids to safely beat each other up?  Oh, by the way, I get paid to do this.  This is my job.  Go ahead and be envious, I’ll understand).

Additionally, I’ve got two more FD gigs lined up (the main stage at Tufts has asked me back for their third and final production this year – OR directed by Sheriden Thomas, and I will also be working with Zeitgeist Stage Company on their up-and-coming show Good Television).

So, really, I’m hitting the ground running here.

As an aside: I recently received an e-mail from a reader asking about the proper pronunciation of the word “dramaturge”.  Here’s the e-mail:

Please help us Dani. Brother and I want to know the correct and widely accepted pronunciation of the word dramaturg? Is it with a soft g as in the French interpretation typically spelled with an e at the end or is it with a hard g as one would assume having come from the Greek root? Thank you for your time and assistance in clearing this up for us. We will submit to your opinion.

Never fear, dear reader; since this is one that I deal with on a daily basis, let’s have a chat about it now.

Since I don't have a picture of me duking it out with someone in a sumo suit, you'll have to settle for a shot of the "Frozen"-themed room at the Ice Hotel

Since I don’t have a picture of me duking it out with someone in a sumo suit, you’ll have to settle for a shot of the “Frozen”-themed room at the Ice Hotel

As you note in your e-mail, “Dramaturge” is from the French work “Dramaturge” and, before that, the Greek word “Dramaturgos” (“Drama” meaning exactly what you would expect it to, and the suffix “-ergos” meaning “worker”).

Also as you seem to be experiencing, there’s actually a great deal of dissention about the pronunciation of this word.  Since it’s from French, you would expect it to be pronounced with the soft “g” (the terminal “e” also indicates this pronunciation), but some scholars prefer to spell it “Dramaturg” and pronounce it in the German way using a hard “g”.  This quirk is in honor of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, author of the Hamburg Dramaturgy (a compilation of essays written by Lessing over the course of his career first as the lead critic of the national theatre in Hamburg then as various other theatre-type-things over the course of the eighteenth century) who is often considered the father of modern dramaturgy.

I, personally, tend to pronounce it the German way (though it depends on what day you catch me and if I’ve been translating Molière recently).  Unfortunately, I have to tell you that both you and your brother are correct; if you walked up to a group of Dramaturges (with a few Dramaturgs mixed in) and each of you took a turn saying it in your own way, you’d both be accepted amongst the group and invited to join the communal festivities beside the fire noting the disparagements between bad Hamlet quartos while being offered egregious amounts of wine to drink.  I should add the caveat that, in the plural, it’s more elegant to use the hard “g” and so that generally is what happens (though, really, when do you run into a group of wild Dramaturgs?  The only time we band together is at conferences, and then usually it’s so we can acquire food without being thrown into nearby dumpsters by the local sports teams who smell our nerdom from a block away and have trouble repressing high school instincts once those pheromones are in the air).

I hope this is helpful even though it’s not conclusive.  If you’d like a better way to settle this between you two, I often find that these sorts of arguments, where neither party is correct nor wrong, are best solved using inflatable sumo suits and copious application of ridiculous sound effects.  After all, it’s very hard to argue victory when you’ve been tackled to the ground and piled on top of.  If you do decide to fight for glory and honor this way, please send a picture.  Nothing would make my day more delightful than a (safe) knockdown, drag-out fight to the finish over quirks of the English (….French…. German… Greek….) language.

Breaking News: The Internet is Here to Stay

Over the weekend, my dearest friend and I celebrated the silly holiday by attending a performance at the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum.  The performance was a staged reading called “Unfeigned Love: The Letters of John and Abigail Adams” and it was, essentially, everything you might think from that title.  Some very apt performers played the parts of John and Abigail and, with the help of a narrator, led the audience through a tour of this great couple’s love via the contents of their letters.

The performance was well done and enjoyable, but I took great issue with something the

The stage-setting for our performance on the evening

The stage-setting for our performance on the evening

narrator said in a nearly-offhand moment of his tale.  At one moment, the narrator chose to ask his audience what their legacy would be; when had they last put pen to paper?  When had they last spent time crafting a letter rather than composing via keys and screen?  “Real” letters, his rhetoric ran, were much more lasting than the fleeting updates one places on the internet and digital technologies cannot be trusted for information permanency.

This fallacy is one which I combat on a daily basis.  Distrust of technology is notorious and rampant; people seem to think that things put on the internet simply fizzle into thin air.  Because these things are not tangible, they are not permanent.  The paper letter is superior in form and longevity.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong mister narrator.  Just…. So very wrong.

Let me put it to you this way: how often do we warn our children against the dangers of putting things on the world wide web where they can be found?  How often do we caution the eager youth against rampant facebook posting for fear that it may be brought to bear against them at some point later in their career?  (say… when looking for a job…?)  Information put online, I would argue, is more permanent and more public than any single piece of paper knowledge crafted since the dawn of the digital age.

So let’s go through these false notions one step at a time: the fallacy would have us believe that digital information is fleeting, impermanent, impersonal, and inferior to something written on a piece of paper.  Additionally, digital communications are entirely replacing hand-written correspondence.

Digital media is far from consumable.  It is nearly impossible to well and truly wipe a hard drive of all traces of information, and doing so requires special equipment (…rare earth magnets, for instance).  Data stored “in the cloud” is actually (generally) stored in physical form at a data center with one (or several) points of redundancy.  Public-facing websites are also considered something of public domain; once the information is available, anyone is free to access or archive it (and people do).  In essence: to erase every trace of something off the internet, you would have to hunt down every physical copy of whatever it is you are looking to destroy, and utilize an obscure process to clean the multiple machines upon which it is stored (generally in more than one physical location).  That doesn’t sound consumable to me.

And how about the notion that gmail auto-archives all of my outward correspondence?  I can’t say that about the paper letters I’ve received and sent.  The truth is that a hand-written note is much more likely to be lost in the shuffle or otherwise destroyed by the ravages of time than a digital one.

Oh and paper is really easy to destroy.  Just ask the good librarians at Alexandria.

As for the impersonal nature of digital media, I will grant you that computer interfaces can often seem cold.  Who hasn’t bemoaned the lack of a “sarcasm font” on one occasion or another?  But I will say that a healthy digital presence can tell more about a person than almost anything else.  Do you want to know who I am?  Then read my blog in conjunction with my twitter feed; google my name and you’ll find pictures of me as well as stories about me scattered through cyberspace; you can even find youtube videos of me doing various things if you want to hear my voice.  Don’t you think that will get you closer to me than a letter can?  The internet allows for a variety of expression that, before the digital age, were all but a dream.  So sure, maybe one brief e-mail isn’t as heartfelt as a gushing hand-drawn letter, but you can’t take the letter out of its context.

Also; the ship was REALLY pretty on the water.

Also; the ship was REALLY pretty on the water.

As for digital correspondence completely replacing the “superior letter”, it will only do so if the individual allows it to.  Despite writing a blog, various e-mails, text messages, social media updates, and all kinds of pixilated content in my day-to-day life, I still maintain a long-term pen pal connection to several of my close friends.  Additionally, even this week I took the time to write my best beloved a hand-written note, sent by old-fashioned post, in celebration of Hallmark’s Holiday.  E-mails don’t kill letter writing; people refusing to write letters kills letter writing.

And, for the record, digital technologies will only make the job of future historians an easier task.  Can I please tell you how much simpler it is to search digitized archives than it is to page through stacks of broadsides or (even worse) hand-written letters?  It’s a true joy to handle written material, but it is (by no stretch of the word) “easy” and I’m certain that much more gets lost in the cracks.

So on the whole, “Unfeigned Love” was an enjoyable event.  I would, however, rather like the historians at Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum to reconsider their stance on digital technologies.  There’s no reason to privilege the written word and put down the typed one; especially since social media makes great (free) advertising.  Encourage your audience to tweet, facebook, and blog to their friends; not forsake the evil computer for the romance of the fountain pen.

Ascendance

After a hard-fought uphill battle, I am EXTREMELY pleased to report that I have ascended to Candidacy (with distinction, even!).

I would like to say that this occurred with great pomp, ceremony, circumstance, a standing ovation, and an elephant parade.  In actuality, it occurred in an office, at an unremarkable hour on Friday with little ceremony other than a few hearty handshakes.  T.S. Eliot’s prediction about the world ending could very well apply to my ascendance (…while I could also use the word “advancement”, how often in life do you get to say that you “ascended” as applied to yourself?).

I didn’t then make a great clamor, but rather had a lovely lunch with a friend, went directly to rehearsal to choreograph the murder of Young Siward on the battlefield by a bloodthirsty Scottish King whose name shall remain unsaid (using broadswords even), then went out to dinner with my beloved.  Saturday we celebrated with a spectacular trip to an ice castle in the White Mountains (a gorgeous drive, even when

At night, lit up, the ice was just lovely.

At night, lit up, the ice was just lovely.

headed through a not-so-small snowstorm on your way home).

I’ve begun a two-week sabbatical from most things academic because I’ve been running on overdrive since May.  I can only stop doing “most things” because the semester has already begun and, therefore, my acting class is in session.  Luckily it’s a joy to teach and not as thinky as something like… say… Postmodern Theory.

While I would like to say that being ABD doesn’t feel any different from being a Ph.D. Student, right now it feels completely different.  For once, I get to think about my own projects and only my own projects.  I get to stop worrying about crazy exams and tests that measure my aptitude for things that I may or may not use (probably will, but who knows?) in the near future.  I get a chance to really stretch my wings and fly home to victory while dancing in the glory of my subject matter.  In other words: from here on in, it’s all-Shakespeare all-the-time.

Mostly.  Unless I pick up an intro class, or a history of theatre class, or a writing seminar, or any number of things that they might ask an adjust instructor with a degree in English to teach.  I might even teach (gasp!) novels!

But for the next two weeks, I’m catching up on e-mails, putting projects to bed that have been awake for far too long and are (thereby) cranky, running errands that have lain dormant far past their expirations dates, and on the whole preparing for the next step in this grand adventure that is doctorhood.

So for now, I sign of as (for the first time),

Danielle Rosvally
ABD!!!!!!!!

Archives: The Real Deal

So here’s the thing about archival work: while it is absolutely thrilling in concept, in practice it is more often dusty, sneezy, and tedious.

Let me paint a picture for you here.  Mind you, this is a hypothetical situation based upon a compilation of real-life experience I have had.  Take it as historical fiction.

You know that a certain performance, which you are extremely interested in, played at y London theatre on x day.  Let’s say, for the sake of ease, that this performance is a performance of Hamlet in which Hamlet was played by a woman whose name you have found but not her picture (yet).  The theatre is a medium-sized London house in the early twentieth century (before WWI).  You know that the archive has a stack of broadsides for this theatre which spans the date range encompassing the performance.

First of all, getting into the archive is a process.  Generally all you will be

it’s been a while since I’ve posted an artful picture of my desk. Seem appropriate here.

permitted to enter with is a pencil, a laptop, a notebook, and a camera.  They’ll have lockers outside where you will be expected to strip away and store any “unnecessary” materials.  This includes your coffee and water bottle for obvious reasons, but in so doing also means that you have perhaps a 2-hour working window before you need to take a break, get a drink of water, or run to the powder room.

So you call up the broadsides and they come in a giant box that looks like it hasn’t been opened in twenty years.  The broadsides are crumbling at the edges because they haven’t been stacked properly and, as a favor, the archivist asks if you could re-stack them as you go in order to better preserve them.  The stack is approximately four inches high.

So you page through one at a time (because you can’t page any faster than that if you’re re-stacking, or even if you’re not re-stacking since they’re arranged in precise chronological order and you don’t want to disturb that… also they’re fragile and will crumble if they aren’t dealt with properly).  While this is exhilarating at first (tee!  You’re a real researcher!), it gets tedious very quickly.  Inevitably what you’re looking for is at the middle of the stack.  As you approach the target date, you can feel your blood begin to pump a little faster.  Here it comes.  That thing you were looking for!

You hit the target date.  And there’s a broadside, but not the one you were expecting.  Alternately, the broadside is missing.  You squint, wondering if you missed something, and continue paging.

If you’re lucky, it’s only moved by a day or two.  If you’re having a particularly bad archive day, it may be filed in the wrong year.  The archivists are horrified by this oversight (and very polite about it and extremely helpful in assisting you to locate the missing broadside).

While you’re paging, you find something that’s tangentially related to your primary research topic.  Alternately, it’s related to some other project that you’re working on.  You find some way to make a note to yourself that you pray you’ll remember to look at later on because, really, where do you file random notes to yourself with any efficacy?

So you finally find the stack of broadsides advertising the run.  Now you need to document them in detail as precise as possible.  You set them up to take pictures with your camera (or, as I’ve recently started doing, your phone since its camera is actually better than the one that’s dedicated to being a camera).  But make sure you take at least two or three because heaven forbid your pictures come out blurry.

Unless you decide to tether the camera to your computer (or, again as I’ve recently started doing, use dropbox to wirelessly transfer the pics so you can take notes on them as you go).  You now need to figure out how to demark which of these extremely similar looking broadsides is noteworthy, why, and how this broadside is different from all other broadsides.

And you hope you’ve gotten it right because coming back to the archive is a difficult/impossible task (depending on its proximity to your home/office) so really you’ve just got this one shot to document it.  In the immortal words of Ru Paul “Good luck; and don’t F#&% it up!”

So yes, archive work is thrilling.  If I wrote here saying that I had less than an amazing time during archive days and that I was anything under exhilarated by the prospect of rare books and manuscripts, I would have to hang up my scholar cap right now and go join the circus.  But that being said, it’s one of those tradeoff things.  You suffer for your art; for that one moment of “ah hah!”; and the dinosaur bones are always buried under layers upon layers of dirt.

Looking Back to Look Forward

Today was back to the grind.

Which meant that I, like the rest of the world, spent the first half of my day unburying my inbox and summarily removing my head from the sand.  While I did do e-mail triage when I was away (I really can’t help it; I absolutely hate seeing those little red notification numbers pop up on my iPhone and not doing anything about them), this still took up a significant chunk of my time.  Which was a shame because my to-do list today was mammoth and included a large number of tasks, most of which could go on for an indefinite period of time.

I haven’t, until recently, really tested the outer limits of my juggling skills.  I know that my time management skills are superb, and I know (relatively) how much I can take before things begin to slip through the cracks.  As such, I tend to take on projects (especially short-term or intermittent projects) until my plate is absolutely at its breaking point.  I recently did a count of how many jobs I am actually working right now.  To qualify, I

A neat bookstore we found during our New York Adventures last week.

A neat bookstore we found during our New York Adventures last week.

considered a “job” as an ongoing project that has to do with my professional resume (either as an artist or an academic; because at this point one feeds the other and so they are essentially the same thing… I’m a mecha-demic).  Since I’ve been taking on various fight directing projects and small acting gigs (to keep up with these or where you can see my work, bop on by to my extracurricular activities page which I regularly update), the number fluctuates somewhere between five and ten on any given week.

It’s gotten so bad that my boyfriend, when I mention “my boss” or “my job”, has taken to asking “which one?”.  When we go see a show, which we do on a regular basis, he has to ask me “where did these tickets come from again?”  Usually he remembers to ask this question before the show so as to temper his feedback accordingly (you don’t know awkward until you’ve experienced a car-ride home from a show which you slammed before asking your companion how she was actually involved in its production only to find out that her input was exactly what you just vehemently protested*).

Occasionally I think that perhaps I should scale back.  When I have these thoughts, I like to remind myself that despite working long days, late nights, odd hours, and weekends on occasion**, I actually enjoy 80% of the things that I do (and that lingering 20% consists of necessary by-products; i.e. paperwork, annoying administration stuff, etc.).  There aren’t many people who can say that their job is consistently rewarding, always interesting, and ever-changing.  So even though paying my bills every month is a constant struggle, I can’t help but feel inescapably lucky.

I’m lucky to have the opportunity to pursue the level of education that I have, and I’m lucky to do so at an institution which is geographically located in a place where I actually want to live.

I’m lucky to have friends and loved ones who support (even if they don’t fully comprehend) my endeavors and are willing to listen to me ramble about history when I’ve had a bit to drink.

I’m lucky to be an artist of enough varying types that people are willing to pay me to

If you go see my latest FD project at Apollinaire, you'll see this audience set dressing.  You won't see the shadow puppet; that was a special addition from my darling other half.

If you go see my latest FD project at Apollinaire, you’ll see this audience set dressing. You won’t see the shadow puppet; that was a special addition from my darling other half.

execute my art, and give me the opportunity to showcase and stretch it on a regular basis.

I’m lucky to encounter so many talented and intelligent people in my travels: students, mentors, and colleagues.

I’m lucky to have the means to participate in all the extracurricular activities which keep my multitude of jobs going; conferences, workshops, seminars, performances, classes, lectures, etc…

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a great start.  As I look into 2014, I see some changes on the wind.  It’s nice to take stock of what I have, even as I know it’s going to become what I had.

One more week of break before classes start and I’m determined to make it count.

 

 

*please note that this hasn’t happened in quite some time; whether that says something about the growth of my skills or the quality of my current company is yet to be determined.

**…okay, fine, on a regular basis.

Happy, Merry, Healthy!

For those who were unaware, I really really love Christmas.

This may not be so odd until you consider that I’m an agnostic raised by Jews.

My deep love of all things Christmas extends to food, music, lights, celebrations, traditional flora, decorating, movies, gift giving, literature, and theatre.

This year, to celebrate the holidays with you (my wonderful readers) I was determined to

Yankee Candle has this beautiful display to help you get in the Christmas Spirit.  It's up year-round at the flagship store.

Yankee Candle has this beautiful display to help you get in the Christmas Spirit. It’s up year-round at the flagship store.

provide a list of opening lines to my favorite Christmas tales.  While I am a little bit late on this, you’ll have to forgive me (Santa seems to have brought me a nasty cold).  Since literature is ever lasting anyway, you can perhaps consider this as your first step towards detoxing from egg nog and Yule logs.

A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore (1823):

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843):

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail. 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868):

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. 

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss (1957):

Every Who Down in Whoville Liked Christmas a lot…
But the Grinch,Who lived just north of Whoville, Did NOT!
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Romeo Muller and Robert May (1964):

If I live to be a hundred, I’II never be able to forget that big snowstorm a couple of years ago.  The weather closed in, and, well, you might not believe it, but the world almost missed Christmas.  Oh, excuse me. Call me Sam.  What’s the matter?  Haven’t you ever seen a talking snowman before?

A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles M. Schulz (1965):

It was finally Christmastime, the best time of the year. The houses were strung with tiny colored lights, their windows shining with warm yellow glow only Christmas could bring. The scents of pine needles and hot cocoa mingled together, wafting through the air, and the sweet sounds of Christmas carols could be heard in the distance.

 Fluffy white snowflakes tumbled from the sky onto a group of joyful children as they sang and laughed, skating on the frozen pond in town. Everyone was happy and full of holiday cheer. That is, everyone except for Charlie Brown.

The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton (1993):

 ‘Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems, in a place that perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams.  For the story that you are about to be told, took place in the holiday worlds of old.  Now, you’ve probably wondered where holidays come from.  If you haven’t, I’d say it’s time you begun.

Strawberry Banke Candlelit Christmas Tour; SO lovely.

Strawberry Banke Candlelit Christmas Tour; SO lovely.

Love Actually by Richard Curtis (2003):

 Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow airport. General opinion started to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. Seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy but it’s always there.

Obviously I could go on, but I’ll leave it there lest you wind up reading until next Christmas.  I hope you had a wonderful holiday, and that you were gifted with everything you could have possibly wanted!

Please note: I will be away for a week celebrating with my family.  I won’t be checking in here, but I’ll be back in the New Year to continue coverage from the front.  Have a happy and healthy one, and catch you in 2014!

 

Not Dead Yet

As you may or may not have guessed by now…

I’m not dead.

I’m taking a break to spend some much-needed time relaxing and catching up on my life outside of academia.

Two more classes before the semester is over (not that I’m really “breaking” over the break, but at least things will slow down a bit).

I’m Fight Directing a show at Apollinaire; you should come check it out (Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven opens December 27th).

I’ll be back to your regularly scheduled programing after next week (one more week of sweet sweet solace).

For now, here’s the Swedish Chef attempting to cook a turkey:

Mid Semester Slump: Fall Edition

Even though it’s well past midterms, I’m definitely feeling the effects of mid-semester crunch.

This is partly due to how my semester is scheduled (two conferences in three weeks will make a girl extremely tired; especially when she’s still dealing with orals, work for various professional committees she’s on, teaching her class, and still trying near-futilely to catch up on sleep/sanity from the summer).  But I think there’s also a certain degree of universality to it: suddenly, those piles of grading on your desk have a new urgency.  The star-struck wonder and optimistic first few weeks of any fresh start (a semester included) has faded; this is where the real work begins.

With fatigue setting in, I’m having to return to my old “find the energy” axioms.  Here are a few that are keeping me going right now; hopefully some of them can also add some inspiration to your day.

1)   It’s fall in New England and everything is beautiful.  I can barely move without

Captured on a walk yesterday!

Captured on a walk yesterday!

having to pause for a foliage picture (thanks to a new-found interest in photography apps for my pocket-robot, I have some great tools with which to capture these).

2)   Fall also means pumpkin flavored everything.  Though by virtue of having discovered a wonderful pumpkin spice flavor syrup recipe I am no longer limited by the calendar as to when I consume my pumpkin coffee, it’s still comforting to know that on days when I just don’t have time to make myself a latte I can rely on good ol’ dunks to provide.

3)   Soon it will be winter.  Winter is when a break happens.  Winter is also when my favorite holiday happens.  This also means that, very soon, I will have full social license to blast my Christmas Music for at least a few months before it becomes taboo again to do so until next year.  Believe you me, nothing brings a smile to a poor downtrodden graduate student like pop culture icons belting Christmas tunes.

 4)   While conference season is stressful, it also gives me an excuse to wear my favorite tweed jacket.  Though I haven’t had a moment to install the requisite leather elbow patches, that particular upgrade is definitely in the works and I hope to have it in place by the next wave of professional gigs which require professorly clothing.

The blue mountains as seen from my plane during the fly-over last week

The blue mountains as seen from my plane during the fly-over last week

5)   Despite all efforts by nature to kill it, my herb garden is still going strong.  As is my aloe plant.  For those not in the know, I (until very recently) was self-titled DANIOR MURDERER OF VEGETATION (caps required for proper voice intonation).  When my trusty bamboo plant was killed by a tragic fungal infection last year, I thought my days of caring for flora were over.  However, convinced by my own tenacity, I managed to overcome my grief and acquire several new plant-friends.  I don’t want to say this too loudly for fear that they might overhear and decide that it’s a great time to kick the proverbial bucket, but they may just be long-lasting installments in my life/office.

6)   Even though I’m really tired, I know that I’m just one workout away from an endorphin high and a quick battery recharge.  It’s not a permanent solution, but it definitely helps me plug along and plow through the multitudes of material on my desk (today’s challenge: several period fencing manuals, most unavailable in modern typesetting… the joys of archival/textual scholarship).

And on that note, perhaps hitting the gym will give me a little pick-me-up and help me through the rest of this afternoon.

I hope you’re having a productive day, and that the mid-semester slump isn’t hitting you too hard!

Rejuvenated

I have just returned from Shakespeare Camp and OH MAN am I excited.

In this case, “Shakespeare Camp” is the 2013 Blackfriars Conference.  Held every other year, the conference is hosted by the American Shakespeare Center at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia.  On odd numbered years, this sleepy little town (charming to us city-folk) plays host to the hoard of Shakespeareans who descend en masse to give papers, hear keynotes, drink copiously, and network network network.

This year, I gave a paper on my work surrounding the African Grove Theatre’s production

A particularly dramatic moment of my presentation  captured by the wonderful Amy Wratchford of the ASC

A particularly dramatic moment of my presentation
captured by the wonderful Amy Wratchford of the ASC

of Richard III.  It was received extremely well and I spent the rest of the conference in scholar heaven with loads of encouragement, plenty of questions, and oodles of intellectual fodder.  Sometimes, it really takes another eye to help take your work to the next level.  In this case, I had a couple hundred eyes and I’m so excited by all the questions and feedback that I got.

This was a very long conference.  I didn’t make it down until Wednesday afternoon, but it technically begins on Tuesday evening and stretches until Sunday.  Essentially, that’s a week’s worth of work that we all miss to come and play with each other at the Blackfriars.  By the end of the conference, you’re tired (sessions begin at 8AM and often don’t end until midnight, and that’s not even counting post-panel drinks and networking at the hotel bar which is amongst the most important part of what we do at conferences), you’re stressed out by the amount of work that’s lurking on your desk and has accumulated since you’ve left, but you’re invigorated.

For me, the beauty of a good conference is the amount of inspiration it provides.  I always know that a conference was worthwhile if I come home really ready to attack my work so that I can meet newfound goals provided by the conferencing atmosphere.  Especially given the amount of mental drain that I’ve experienced over the past several months due to the examination process, this was a much-needed rejuvenation.

Another very neat aspect of these things is that since everyone goes to them you get to meet people from fellow graduate students all the way to superstar academics.  On Friday morning I sat in a keynote given by Russ McDonald.  It was interesting and he was absolutely charming, but here was the best part:

Another presentation shot; this one courtesy of Eric Johnson of the Folger Shakespeare Library

Another presentation shot; this one courtesy of Eric Johnson of the Folger Shakespeare Library

Six years ago, in my undergrad, I spent a summer researching in Stratford upon Avon.  It was one of the first times that I had a taste of what “real” research is like, and certainly was the first time I had been given the opportunity to do archival work.  It was the first time that I really realized this could be a life choice, that I could possibly spend the rest of my life doing this.  I’d say that, while it wasn’t my first date with Will, it was definitely the moment when things got serious.

As preparation for that trip, I had to read several introductory articles and books (including things by McDonald… Russ, not Old).  I will be honest and say that it’s not something I think about every day, or even every week, but as I sat in that keynote address, I suddenly remembered the feeling of reading that work.  The over-arching wonder that I was going to be visiting (and living in) Stratford; that I would walk those streets; that I would see those shows in that place.  When I remembered that, everything just clicked into place and I had a feeling of vertigo.  How far had I come in six years; how much had I experienced.  It all flew past me like some sappy eighties montage culminating with a thunking landing on that seat in the Blackfriars playhouse.

So here’s to the last six years; and the next six years; and all the intervals in between.

A shot of the last panel of the conference starring the infamous ASC bear which chases you offstage if you go over your allotted time

A shot of the last panel of the conference starring the infamous ASC bear which chases you offstage if you go over your allotted time

Let’s see how productive I can be in the interim between Blackfriars so that next time (October 2015) I can re-encounter old acquaintances with new vigor, new stories, and new bylines on my CV.

So now: back to your regularly scheduled programing.

Bacchanalia

This weekend is a weekend full of theatre and I can’t feel better about it!

We kicked things off last night with The Bacchae at club Oberon.

There are a few fundamental issues in presenting Greek theatre to a contemporary audience.  I have been known to argue that Greek tragedy is actually unperformable in the United States today (for further thoughts on this or to participate in this argument, buy me a drink sometime).  This production was one of those rare gems of exception – if you absolutely have to perform Greek tragedy, you should perform it like this.

The environment at Oberon (and the immersive dance-club stage space) sets the tone for interaction.  There’s not anywhere to hide from Dionysus’ maenads and you are caught up in the ritual just as much as the one sacrificial audience plant whom Dionysus makes his own in the play’s beginning.  Audience members are crowned with ivy and given drums to play as they enter the space and are subsequently invited to participate fully in the ritual they are about to witness.

Because of this, the long chorus speeches become exhilarating.  The maenads bop and weave through the audience, menacing and caressing, inviting you to be a part of their world for a time.  There is no passive listening (which is the death of long speeches).  These interludes, alienating on a tradition stage, thus become a point of access for the audience.

Another thing that this production has working in its favor is the traditional Oberon performance length (ninety minutes).  By trimming the wordy Greekness of this down to a palatable length, The Bacchae doesn’t have the opportunity to lose its audience.  You’re either caught up in the flow of the action, or you’re drinking at the bar (sometimes both but there is no in between).

The one thing I would have liked to see tweaked slightly is the token use of

Poster for Arlington Shakespeare in the park; yes, apparently there is still a theatre company that uses posters

Poster for Arlington Shakespeare in the park; yes, apparently there is still a theatre company that uses posters

masks.  In this production.  As each character is introduced, he enters wearing a “Greek-style”* mask.  The mask is removed before each character speaks, done away with, and never seen again.  The trouble I have with this convention is its uselessness.  If it was meant as a nod at Greek theatrical practice (we do know that in the Greek theatre all characters wore masks), that’s wonderful, but if you’re just going to wear it to do away with it you may as well not wear it and save your costumer the time and expense of acquiring it.  I would have liked to see the masks return at the end and create a sort of “framing device” for the piece.  Just as Dionysus is introduced wearing his full pan horns which are then dispatched with only to be seen at the play’s very end, the beautiful masks should have made a re-appearance.

As to the non-traditional staging elements demanded by the performance space at Oberon, historically they’re not actually all that non-traditional.  We can’t say overmuch for certain about Greek theatre, but we do know that the Greek theatrical space consisted of a stage area (scholars debate about whether this was a raised platform or not) and an orchestra where the chorus performed (again, HUGE debates about the shape and size of the orchestra).  The floor plan of Club Oberon is essentially this.  There is a stage (which, at Oberon, is a raised platform) and a dance floor in front of it (for the purposes of our Greek analogy, this can serve as an orchestra).  Of course, in Greece we have no record of the audience mingling with the chorus (as happens at Oberon), but since I can now check “be kissed by Dionysus” off my bucket list, I can definitely overlook this breach in historical protocol.

The Bacchae is, unfortunately, done.  They closed last night (I know, I know, I need to get to things earlier in their run).

HOWEVER!

Here’s a list of things I’m going to be seeing in the near future that HAVEN’T closed.  I can’t vouch for their quality yet, of course, but if you want to get some theatre in this summer you have plenty of options:

Caucasian Chalk Circle by Apollinaire Theatre Company – free, in the park.  Hitting this tonight.

Richard II and Love’s Labour’s Lost at Shakespeare and Company – making my yearly pilgrimage to Lennox tomorrow which, incidentally, is the last performance of Richard though Love’s Labour’s runs a bit longer.

Much Ado About Nothing presented by Arts Art Hours in Lynne Woods — I have some friends in the cast and I love this show, so I really can’t see it being bad.  It’s a strolling production.  Outside.  That at least should be interesting.

Romeo and Juliet by Arlington Center for the Arts – free, outside Shakespeare; can’t get more pleasant than that.  Only one performance though so if you are interested, you should check it out.

Psycho Beach Party by Counter-productions theatre —  it’s a contemporary piece but has a really interesting name… and I have a friend who keeps saying I should go.  So I’m going.

Cinderella by Boston Opera Collaborative — they say that this piece is being performed “authentically” i.e. true to period style.  We’ll see about that… either way, great for comps!

Why Torture is Wrong and the People who Love them by Titanic Theatre Project – sometimes you just need some Christopher Durang to bring levity to a situation.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all theatre happening in Boston right now, just some things that are on my calendar.  Stay cool!!

 *I put this in quotation marks because there’s no real way for us to ascertain authentic Greek-style masks; none are extant and the flaws of relying on pottery paintings as historiographical evidence have often been expounded upon by scholars.  As such, the masks were certainly what you as a modern playgoer with some idea of Greek theatrical practice, would expect to see… but I can’t really call them “authentic”.