You’re into the Time Slip

Time is a weird thing in academia.

The semester starts and things get nuts because you’re trying to fit in all the meetings that you couldn’t have while nobody was on campus over the “break”. You’re getting a feel for your classes, you’re trying to learn names, you’re working through your schedule.

Midterms happen before you know it and you wonder how it could possible be the middle

Pretty library I found recently!

Pretty library I found recently!

of the semester already. Also, you wonder why you assigned so bloody much writing because clearly you are a masochist and wanted to punish yourself with ALL THE GRADING!

Between midterms and finals, you wonder if you’ll ever see the end of the semester. You don’t have much time to wonder this though because, before you know it, you’re chasing down the last loose ends of the semester and looking forward to the much-needed break.

You collapse for a few days right after the semester is over only to realize that whatever “break” you’re on isn’t really a break and that you have a ton of projects to take care of that you were just pushing off until the end of the semester.

The worst part is that nobody in your real life understands why you tend to live cyclically like this. It’s like an eternal butterfly; going around and around its life cycle never truly getting the chance to fly as free as it wants to (….I guess until you wind up taking a sabbatical but that’s a dream that lives evermore in the distant future for me). You wind up having to explain and re-explain that no, you’re not really on a break. All this means is that you don’t have to show up on campus a couple times a week (though you will anyway to make copies, print documents, and rotate your library books). No, friends and family, that’s not the same thing as having “all this free time” to visit or goof off like normal people get to do on their “vacation”. What is “vacation” anyway? A state of mind? A state of being? Some Zen-like state achieved with yoga and too much caffeine?

The end of the semester is so close that I can taste it, but really all that means is an increased stress as deadlines pant their hot vapors down my neck. My plans this semester have had to be loose and flowing due to the inevitable red tape which comes with academic pursuit, and the summer is proving to be no different. There’s almost nothing relaxing about the prospect of what’s to come in the next few weeks.

Rows of green say Spring might JUST be here.... finally.

Rows of green say Spring might JUST be here…. finally.

This is (probably) punctuated by the fact that I’m planning a move to some undisclosed location in the general vicinity (undisclosed, mostly, because it’s so secret that even I don’t know where it is yet… ah the beauties of apartment hunting). It doesn’t matter how you slice it; moving simply sucks.

So if I seem more frantic than usual, it’s probably because I’m trying to contemplate fitting my life into boxes and re-acclimating to a new office space with the most nominal possible break in my standard operating procedures. Oh and because summer isn’t summer anymore; it’s just “work and try not to melt while maintaining your own schedule because your meetings all happen on skype now rather than in person”.

The Write Stuff

I’m a slow writer and I need many drafts to create something that I feel is worthwhile.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following this blog for some time. I’ve explicated my writing process on several occasions, and over the years while the materials have changed (I RARELY do literal cut and paste jobs anymore), the methods certainly haven’t.

This might come as a surprise to anyone who realizes that I’m a blogger and puts two and two together. Blogging is a sphere which, of necessity, requires you to develop content quickly and efficiently. So how can a blogger be an admittedly “slow writer”?

Now let’s start here: I’m not talking George R.R. Martin slow. In fact, I think that guy ought to be ashamed of himself. My beloved did the math at one point and determined that Martin produces something like 250 viable words a day. WHAT? If I wrote that slowly, they would boot me from my program and make me wear a sign of shame around my neck to tell the world that I was an embarrassment to the ivory tower and writers everywhere. When I say “slow”, I mean more that I need many many drafts to forge and re-forge a piece of academic writing in order to temper it and make it stronger. I’m up to something ridiculous like fifteen drafts of one piece I’m working on right now (don’t worry, I’m about to hit the “send” button on that one, so before you get lecturey about over-drafting just stop and take stock of the fact that I’ve been working on it for a year and a half now because it’s been interspersed with other projects).

Academic writing is completely different from any other style of writing. When I blog, for example, I generally require one hour from inception to publication of a post. This includes

This morning's drafting session

This morning’s drafting session

research. When I write creatively, I produce a preliminary draft of content very quickly and go back over it a few times before I feel like others can lay eyes on it (more like three drafts than ten). I can produce 2,500 words of first draft creative fiction in about an hour. More disposable content, like facebook and twitter updates, are just banged out in about point five seconds.

Each of these styles of writing is important to one’s development as a writer. I believe that writing is an under-appreciated and under-developed aspect of the academic work. While we’re expected to generate writing at pivotal points in our career, there’s very little support (unless you create it yourself) for exercising and bettering your writing. So many academics hold their writing process to close to the chest that it’s often difficult to trouble-shoot your own process. I have taken to asking mentors and peers, at conferences or other socially appropriate forums, what their writing process is like just to get new ideas about things I could do better. I’ve learned a few tricks (some of them more palatable than others; there is no way in any universe that I’ll be waking up at 6AM to fit in three hours of just writing before I go about the rest of my day but I’m glad that it works for some people), and I’ve mostly learned this: everyone’s process is different. Much like a workout regime, some basic rules apply universally: repetition is a must, sustainability is key, and knowing when to push yourself and/or rest will help you be more productive in the long run. Other than that, just do it. Find whatever works for you, and get going. Do it today, do it tomorrow, do it the day after. Keep writing; the only way to fail here is by inaction.

One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that once I get to the drafting stage, I can roll home without much problem. Drafting time is my favorite point in the writing process. This is the point where I get to take my colored pens and hone my work until it’s shiny and better than it was before. There’s something so satisfying about the instant gratification of taking a piece of writing and making it be better. There’s also an immediate visual cue that red-penning a page gives you; “LOOK HOW MUCH I CHANGED! THIS IS HOW MUCH BETTER IT IS NOW!” In a field that functions so basically on intangible items, this kind of tangible and visible change is a welcome breathe of fresh air and something that I, kinesthetic learner that I am, desperately need to feel satisfied.

Also, when I draft, I can take my work for walks. It keeps me focused to have a stack of papers in front of me and no internet to distract. I take my draft, go to a local coffee shop, buy a cuppa, and stay until I’m done. This breaks my work up into logical and manageable chunks and keeps me from mid-day burnout. Sometimes even a little sunshine and fresh air (on my way to/from wherever I’m going for the day, for example) can help to give me a little boost when I need it most.

So keep on keeping on, brave writers! Venture boldly forth and practice, practice, practice.

Spring. Finally.

It’s getting to be spring in Boston.  I know this because I’ve (regularly) been able to go for outdoor runs in the afternoon without wanting to die due to exposure.

I also know this because of the wistful glances that my students have been making out the window during class time (difficult because my classroom is actually in a basement; the windows are almost entirely below ground level and the small amount of natural light which we are graced with has to travel through small slits on the level of the ceiling).

I also also know this because of the inevitable yearning for even less structured days; the bulk of my grading is pretty much done at this point (there will be one final push in a few weeks, but the major written assignment are all taken care of), my trips to campus are growing fewer in frequency by the day (also due partly to the fact that I’m not in a research crunch right now, but rather a writing stretch), and I have fewer and fewer meetings on my calendar.

I also also also know this because when I look at the syllabus, we’re quickly running out of class days.  And when we run out of class days, then we run out of class.  And when we run out of class, then I get to take a short break before running brake-neck into the next series of engagements (I’ve got several summer tasks already lines up and I can just smell a couple others on the air).

In short: spring is a big fat tease.  It tantalizes with promises of nice weather (I went for so many walks this weekend; I even got to take my whip out for the first bullwhip practice of

A day at the park.  This is perfectly normal, right?

A day at the park. This is perfectly normal, right?

the season… surprisingly my skill didn’t degrade at all over the winter, which gives me hope for learning a couple new tricks in the next few months), it shows you the slightest bit of freedom before yanking it away again, and it simply revels in your glorious suffering.  Sure, you might be able to work with the window open these days, but that wonderful fresh air which beckons you outside sings its siren song to lure you to inevitable lack of work ethic.  Spring encourages lackadaisicality and I will never forgive it for that.

Of course, I will also never forgive it for the havoc it wrecks on my sinuses.  Stupid tress.  Stupid pollen.  If any other living thing assaulted me suchly with its reproductive organs, I would be filing a restraining order and calling my shrink on a daily basis for assistance in dealing with the trauma.  No means no, adolescent trees.  No means no.

Anyway, mostly this year I’m holding it against spring that it chose to show up so late to the party.  Not that I’m not happy to see it, just that I’m grumpy it made me wait so long.  It thinks it can make up having to deal with winter’s creepy show-up-at-your-door-unannounced tendencies for an extra month by just being its “awesome” self?  I don’t THINK so, spring.  You’re going to have some real groveling to do before I forgive you for that little trick.  So get going with trying to make it up to me; I’ll just wait here until I feel like you’ve done enough to put you back in my good graces again.

Books Don’t Keep you Warm

Here is your obligatory complaining about the weather post: on Tuesday it was warm enough for a run outside.  Today I’m going to have to shovel my driveway before I leave for class.  Because I live in New England.

I’ve spent the week looking yearningly out of windows and hoping that the words “Spring Break” would actually mean something to the weather gods.  Unfortunately for me, the weather gods are tricksy jerks and care not for a university schedule, or even the pleas of a desperate doctoral candidate looking for some small way to salvage what’s left of her sanity.

On that note, I don’t know why I’m continually surprised at the revivifying quality that exercise has on my mind.  No matter how many times I prove it to be true, I am consistently astounded by the fact that if I go for some kind of physical activity right at the point when my eyes get bloobity and I can’t really read/comprehend what’s on the page in front of me, an hour later I’m raring to go again.  This re-realization only compounds my yearning for the warmer weather; convincing myself to go outside for an hour is so much easier when “outside” is a pleasant place to be.  I do break down and move my workouts indoors during inclement weather, but even walking from my door to the gym can sometimes be a fight when it’s bitter and leaky out there.

If anyone knows anyone who has a hookup with someone who can make spring come faster here in Massachusetts, I’d be ever so grateful.  I’m plumb tired of being cold.

Dissertation work is draining, and my book fort doesn’t seem to be moving one way or another.  This is mostly due to the fact that the minute I manage to reduce my “to read”

artistic desk shot.  This doesn't really expound the extent of the book fort, but it does look pretty.

artistic desk shot. This doesn’t really expound the extent of the book fort, but it does look pretty.

pile to workable number, I get another dose of ILL books from the library and stack them on top again.  Despite diligently hacking away at the pile on my desk (which at one point this week was tall enough to literally bury me), I’m still surrounded by things that need to be read.

I suppose I should look at the other end for any indication of real progress: it is true that my “have read” book fort is steadily growing larger.  It has, at this point, expanded to the point of walling me into my desk.  I have to traverse an obstacle course before I can actually sit down these days.  The scary part is that I haven’t even really begun to work on the bulk of the project; I’m still just picking at the edges.  I suppose that means I’ve chosen a topic ripe for exploration, but it does leave me a wee bit nervous about just how many library books I’m going to be held accountable for before this is all over.

And that’s not even to consider the archival work ahead of me.  I’ve identified piles upon piles of things that I’ll have to sort through; but at least those items won’t follow me home.  Well, they will, but in neatly sifted digitized form so that they won’t take up any room on my floor (just on my hard drive).

And on that note, it’s time to re-launch today’s attack upon Research Mountain.  Wish me luck!

 

Letters to Myself

At the moment, I’m serving as fight director for Tufts University’s production of RENT.  This has caused no small amount of internal time travel.

Music is extremely evocative, and the music from RENT was something that I lived with on a constant basis in my high school years.  I listened to that soundtrack so much that I can still sing it top to bottom, backwards and forwards.  I may just know RENT better than I know Hamlet (and, as you know, that’s saying something).  Last night, I was sitting in on the first minute or two of their run-through (because that’s when my violence occurs… remember?  Collins gets the snot beat out of him and his coat stolen in the first number?) which meant that, inevitably, I came home to spend some time with my high school self.  And I have a few things to tell her.  So, in the event that time travel is a real thing some day, I’m publishing this open letter to my high school self in a place where she’s sure to find it using google.

Dear high school self,

You have to understand first and foremost that nothing I’m about to say is a joke.  I know you’re going to find it incredulous that some of these things have happened to you and that this is your life now, but if you can believe in time travel you can believe in this.

You still work in the theatre.  You moved to Boston to get a PhD and you’re on your way to becoming a Shakespeare Scholar.  You travel around the country to present your work at conferences (just this year, you sat in the Blackfriar’s playhouse in Staunton VA where you heard Russ MacDonald give a keynote… yep… that guy whose book you’re going to read in about three years while sitting on a plane to London where you’re going to study with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust/Royal Shakespeare company… oh yea, that happens too).  You’re also a freelance writer, and (get this) you work as a Fight Director.  Yep.  In Boston.  People pay you to do that (and, by the way, really enjoy your work).

I know you think that New York is the greatest city in the world and you’ll never leave.  Well, you still think that and you miss it terribly.  But there are things about Boston that you don’t find half bad (being able to have a car, for instance, is pretty rockin’).

Most of your friends are now married with kids.  You’re not.  It’s the cost of progress.

This is the earliest readily available picture of myself that I can find.  I'm in my New York Apartment living room painting a set for "Complete Works of William Shakespeare [abrgd]".

This is the earliest readily available picture of myself that I can find. I’m in my New York Apartment living room painting a set for “Complete Works of William Shakespeare [abrgd]“.

Don’t go stressing out about it though; you like their kids but you also like your sleep.  Sleep is important when you regularly work twelve and thirteen hour days.  Don’t worry, it doesn’t feel like work most of the time (because you love doing it), but does take a lot of energy to sustain.

Let me prepare you for this one too: some pretty tough stuff is going to happen to you.  Friends will come and go, people will die, you’ll fall in and out of love, you’re not going to succeed at everything (and some of the things you fail at you’re going to have worked really hard for)…  You’re going to understand a broad spectrum of human emotions before you write this letter to you.  None of the bad stuff feels good when you’re going through it, but at the end of the day I promise something good comes from each and every awful thing.  They help you to understand yourself in ways you didn’t before which, for you, is really important.  They make you a better human being.  And, if you really don’t care about that (which I’m not convinced you do), they also make you a better actor.

Oh, by the way, you’re pretty good at that acting thing.  Don’t let the countless fruitless auditions and meetings with agents/managers get you down.  You’re going to get to play some pretty cool roles and work with some pretty great people.  But don’t let this go to your head either; the best thing you can do is learn humility as quickly as possible.  Even if whomever you’re dealing with doesn’t know more than you do, you’ll get further with the assumption that he does rather than the opposite.  And you’ll be surprised the things you can (and will) learn from these situations.

Strive to be curious.  Curiosity will take you to great and wonderful places.

Always be tenacious.  Bouncing back with fervent persistence is one of your greatest strengths.  Whatever it is that you’re pursuing, chase it down and shake it until it’s dead.  Unless you don’t actually want to kill it (even in metaphor), in which case chase it down and hug it forever and ever.

I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil anything.  The bottom line: it’s all going to work out.  You’ll have ups, you’ll have downs, the downs are tough and the ups are great.  I can promise you this: you’ll always have some awesome friends around to help you, there will always be a new adventure waiting, and you’ll only ever be as stagnant as you let yourself become.

Much love,

Future you

For the Children

As you may or may not recall, I’ve just come off a project at the Charlestown Working Theatre.  It has been my pleasure to fight direct their Advanced Youth Ensemble’s production of Macbeth.  The show opens on Saturday the first and runs weekends through the ninth (for more information, check out the CWT website).  This production has given me the opportunity to think about a great many things (not the least of which being “What’s the best way to kill a child, but not the infant he’s carrying, onstage?”; “How badass are the Banquos?”; and “If I were the King of Scotland, what would my signature broadsword move be?”).  One of the more poignant issues came up the other day in rehearsal, and I’d like to take a moment to discuss it.

This show is a production with teens.  The cast is (mostly) aged 13-18.  CWT plays host to several youth programs for children of varying ages and it’s truly a family place.  As a result, the director mentioned to me that she has been asked by parents if this show is appropriate for their younger children.

Alright, look.  Macbeth is a violent show that deals with adult themes.  Depending on the production company and the director’s imagination, sometimes the show is more violent than other times.  This version of Macbeth happens to be “bloodless” (by this I mean that, while murders are staged, we are not using blood or gore effects) and the violence is relatively straightforward (the murders are “clean” without being psychotic or sociopathic; the murderers take no apparent relish in their task but rather perform it as a duty).  Honestly, I think that this Macbeth is extremely appropriate for children of a certain age.

 

Me working with the cast.  Photo Credit: Jennifer Johnson

Me working with the Macbeth cast (specifically Macbeth and Young Siward). Photo Credit: Jennifer Johnson

Because bad things do happen in the world; and sometimes they happen to good people.  There isn’t a single news channel that wouldn’t show coverage similar to what we’re producing onstage.  This world is not always a safe place to be, and coming to terms with that is a part of growing up.

We go to the theatre to be transformed.  The old adage that philosophers unto ancient times have touted is that good theatre is meant to educate and entertain.  What better way to teach your children about violence than to expose them to violent acts in a safe space, where no one will really get hurt, and where the consequences are reversible?  Will young children feel disturbed by what they see in Macbeth?  I hope so.  If you can witness these kind of deeds without feeling some kind of stirring in your gut, then I don’t think you’re fit for humanity.  But what a teaching moment for them; what a place to learn is a theatre.

Besides which, there’s nothing we are showing that they can’t see in to even greater extreme on television, in movies, or in video games.  Did you know that gun violence in PG-13 rated films has tripled since 1985?  I’ve seen enough faceless murder victims on the big screen to know that killing isn’t a thing Hollywood takes seriously.  Blood, gore, assault… these are issues which we should be discussing with our children.  And, luckily, they are issues which Shakespeare takes seriously.  I think that Macbeth is a learning opportunity.  It’s an outlet for conversation about some BIG TOUGH issues which are and are not pieces of our daily lives.  Because, let’s face it, even though we are confronted with depictions of violence on an almost-daily basis, how often do we talk about it?

So I encourage you to take the opportunity that theatre has presented.  Teach your children about violence in a meaningful way in hopes that they can come to respect it and, in turn, realize how impactful it can be.  And, hey, maybe come see Macbeth.  Just to find out what that signature move I invented might be.

Snow Woes

My brain is a little numb.  I’ve been working very hard for a very long time, and there really isn’t a break in sight.  Well… there kinda is, but not one that I’m getting any close to (in a matter of a month I can take a pseudo-break but I can’t call it a “real” break since the semester will have just started and, thusly, I’ll be teaching at that point).  For now, I’m buried in books and, no matter how much reading I do, the book fort never seems to get any smaller (probably due to the fact that I keep piling library books on top of it even as I read them out from the bottom of the stacks).

To make matters worse, over the weekend we got our first major snowstorm here in the

From last year and with an APPROPRIATE amount of snow. Harumph.

Northeast.  This at least gave me the ability to successfully test my hypothesis that I would rather do any other task in my household than shovel.  As I suited up to deal with the icy toboggan-trail that had become my driveway, I couldn’t help but wryly remark to myself that snow days really ain’t what they used to be.

The funny thing about snow in Boston is you’d think that, since it’s a city inhabited by New Englanders, nobody would have a problem with it.  They’d go about their business without much to-do and continue on their merry ways amidst the downfall.  But no.   Somehow, inevitably, the first snow of the year transforms the city into a conglomerate of royal jerks who have all miraculously forgotten how to drive.  Additionally, even though the roads are still slippy/slidey, Bostonians think that snow on the sidewalk makes it acceptable to walk in the road rather than tromp on their nice, safe, designated walkway.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many pedestrians I almost ran down on my way home from rehearsal last night.

As an added bonus, since my driveway is uphill both ways and the nice fluffy pillows of wonder that fell from the sky this weekend froze over with about an inch of caked-on skating-rink quality ice, my back seems to have called up its union and gone on strike in protest of hard manual labor.

And we’re expecting more snow tomorrow.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my cave.  Grumbling.

Robin’ Hearts

Yesterday was my birthday.

To celebrate I did many things.  One of them was to see theatre.  We went to go see the A.R.T.’s production of The Heart of Robin Hood.

I wanted to see it because it sounded like fun.  I mean, it’s a play.  About Robin Hood.  How could this not be interesting?

It turned out to be much more than I expected.  Yes, yes, there was talent onstage (both in the acting and execution of the show), the writing was good, and the sundry list of things you expect from professional theatre was all fulfilled with gusto.  Let’s talk about how this show went above and beyond expectations:

First of all, the set design.  I’ve never before seen a set that was more enveloping, more

Rehearsal shot of Jordan Dean (Robin), Christiana Bennett Lind (Marion), and Christopher Sieber (Peter) by Evgenia Eliseeva

Rehearsal shot of Jordan Dean (Robin), Christiana Bennett Lind (Marion), and Christopher Sieber (Peter) by Evgenia Eliseeva

appropriate, or more useful to the production.  From the moment I walked in to the theatre, I had absolutely no doubt that I was in Sherwood Forest.  Above this, every single little piece of the set was used for something (generally many somethings) in an unexpected and creative way throughout the course of the production.  The set was so wedded to the show that I had a hard time conceiving of how this could have possibly been rehearsed without it.  If you go for not other reason, go to see how set design can influence and effect a production.  Sets: not just pretty ways to decorate a room.

But it wasn’t just the set that made the set.  The lighting design for this production was so spot-on and wonderful that it was noteworthy.  Lighting design is an often-unacknowledged portion of the show as, generally, great lighting design is invisible and awful lighting design is nauseating.  In Robin Hood, the lighting was simply magical and almost cinematic in its magnitude.  It integrated seamlessly into the beautiful production, while simultaneously adding unending value to the story.  I often found myself wishing that my life could be lit the way Björn Helgason lit Sherwood.  Please?

Now let’s talk about the dramaturgy.  It’s not like Robin Hood is a new concept by any stretch of the term.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that, in most cases, Robin Hood is a trite cliché that should probably not be relied upon to add value to anything.  The A.R.T. production proved that you can teach an old outlaw new tricks.  At every turn, the production subverted your Robin Hood expectations while simultaneously remaining true to the story we all know and love.  Additionally, the program notes were well-written and lain out so as to give a glimpse into the playwright and designers’ dramaturgical processes.  Here was pertinent, interesting information about the show that you were about to see made accessible for a theatre (or Robin Hood) novice.  Dramaturgy at its finest.  Bravo.

And, for our superficial moment of the review, let’s talk about the bodies onstage.  This was an extremely physical show that constantly put the human form on display.  Following in the footsteps of the A.R.T.’s now-Broadway smash sensation Pippin, Robin Hood integrated physical performance and acrobatic athletics to create stunning visual tableau with bodies to match the already-lovely presence of the space.  What this means without jargon: well-muscled men in tight leather pants and open-front vests performing feats of strength for your amusement.  By way of a birthday surprise, this didn’t go amiss (it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting to see, but who wouldn’t take six-pack abs and leather to gaze adoringly at from the comfort of Sherwood?).  Lest you fear that this show is all-fluff and no-stuff, let me assure you that the acting prowess of these gentlemen matches their physical abilities and you will not be left to work hard in suspending your disbelief.  These guys are triple threats: acting, dancing, and (get ready for it) singing.  Yup.  They can come serenade me by my window any day of the week.

Oh yea, there’s a whole female empowerment story arc (Marion dresses as a boy and goes to pal around in the woods for a while), and a few of the scenes are essentially modern-text renditions of As you Like it.  For once, this homage didn’t make me angry; the playwright acknowledged it in his production notes, the actors did it justice, and I was happy to have snuck in some surprise Bard on my birthday.  Fun fact: Prince John’s last line is almost verbatim Malvolio’s last line from Twelfth Night.  Because who doesn’t like declaring revenge to the court before making a dramatic exit?

So really; if you have even a half interest in any of the things mentioned in this review (or circuses, ducks, bluegrass music, or stage combat), grab a ticket and go see.  Even better: take your kids.  They’ll love it and it’ll make you feel better about squealing like an over-excited toddler when the good guys start to throw down.

 

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:

A Comedy of Errors

In celebration of my triumph, my beaux took me to see a show this weekend.  And not just any show.  A SHAKESPEARE show.  A show that we’ve both been dying to see for some time now and which displayed great promise in its advertised concept.

The new-to-Boston Anthem Theatre Company performed a four-man Comedy of Errors  at the BCA Plaza blackbox.  At ninety minutes with no intermission and some creative application of props/costumes, it was a high-octane performance with great entertainment value.

Unfortunately, the performance was (for me) overshadowed by an egregious lack of judgment on the part of the production company.

I’ve always thought that a program bio for a dead playwright was a bit odd.  Granted, sometimes it contains useful information for an audience (especially if the show is meant to be an “introduction to [playwright]” for a crowd who wouldn’t normally see this type of theatre).  It makes slightly more sense when there’s a dramaturge working on a production with expertise in the subject matter who can craft a bio with good/entertaining tidbits.

Anthem, however, made a cardinal mistake: they copy and pasted from the internet.

The bio in their playbill is attributed to http://www.biographyonline.net/poets/william_shakespeare.html and has all the usual axioms about Shakespeare.  The piece which bothered me most was this paragraph:

“Shakespeare died in 1664; it is not clear how he died although his vicar suggested it was from heavy drinking.”

 At first I couldn’t tell if this was a joke.  The timbre of the show was irreverent; maybe this was some sort of wink to that.  A little investigation brought me to realize what was going on here: the error is reprinted verbatim from its source.  The issue wasn’t purposeful, it was simply a careless copy job.

First of all; Shakespeare died in 1616.  He was born in 1564.  The playbill misprint is likely

doesn't it look like we're private eyes in a noir movie?

doesn’t it look like we’re private eyes in a noir movie?

a transcription error on the part of biographyonline.net which was propagated by simply cutting and pasting the bio without fact-checking it.

It’s almost the first thing I tell my students when they walk into my class: never copy and paste off the internet.  And certainly don’t do so without a bit of investigation of your own.  One google search would have divested the truth about Shakespeare’s death date to whomever curated this playbill.

 

The bit about heavy drinking was a fairy tale I hadn’t heard before.  After some poking around, I see that (like so much else about Shakespeare’s life) it’s a reasonably common myth with an unclear origin; certainly not canonical fact, and not something that I would include in a reliable bio.

Why was I so enraged at this incident, you may ask?  Because first of all it undermines the authority of the work.  How am I supposed to trust that these people know anything about Shakespeare?  How am I supposed to respect the hard work of the actors/company if I can see that their playbill is thrown together by someone who simply doesn’t know any better and hasn’t bothered to find out?  What do they have to contribute to this conversation, or teach to an audience of Shakespeare-beginners, if they can’t get their basic facts straight?

The second reason that this made me angry was that it didn’t have to be a problem.  If the company wanted a dramaturge (or even just someone to write a smart playbill note), all they had to do was send one e-mail to any theatre department in the Boston area.  Said department, I can nearly guarantee, would have had a student willing to work on this project for free.  Suddenly, the company is engaged in a mutually beneficial relationship with a scholar; the dramaturge gets a resume byline, and the company gets an accurate piece of micro-scholarship.  Problem: more than solved.  And no fuss/no muss.

Really, this hits at the heart of an issue near and dear to my heart.  If scholarship can’t feed and serve practice, then what’s the point of scholarship?  And if practice refuses to acknowledge scholarship, then how can it serve its purpose?  Without a healthy dialogue between the two, we’re stuck in a combined death-spiral to mutual-but-separate oblivions.

It baffles me even more that companies who do classical work seem less likely to hire dramaturges than companies who do contemporary work.  Wouldn’t you think that a company who specialized in Shakespeare would want someone around who knows the ins/outs/back ends/front ends/historical tidbits/correct pronunciation intimately?  Or how about a company that generally does contemporary plays but is taking a dip into the Shakes-world; wouldn’t you think they would want someone to converse with about any questions they may have even more?

So long as we continue to put our hands over our ears and sing loudly to ourselves that our work is the only legitimate work, we will not grow as a community.  Without understanding and helping each other, we risk stagnation as artists and scholars.  So please, for the love of all things bardy, hire (or at least consult) a dramaturge.  If you find a good one, I promise that your work (and theirs!) will benefit from it.