My Life with a Fight Director

In an effort to bring you non-comps related material, here are some anecdotes about  how my crazy, beautiful life has some wonderful adventures in it.  Enjoy!

Over the course of the past few months, I’ve been slowly re-integrating pieces of my life that I had taken a long break from. Primarily due to the efforts of a certain individual who, as is my wont, shall remain nameless in order to protect the innocent, I’ve been rediscovering the wonderful world of fight choreography.

Staged violence is a strange and interesting thing. Part dance, part illusion, it’s something that caught my attention at a young age and has held it since. Because knowing how to execute even the most rudimentary stage combat is not something that everyone knows how to do, the individual who has even a modicum of training is often the person in the room most qualified in the art. I’ve been that person many times (though, while I wouldn’t call my experience “exhaustive”, I definitely fall into the category of “someone who knows things” rather than “someone with a modicum of training”).

Hanging out with fight directors is a special pastime in its own right. We come from diverse

very recent picture of me fighting (as part of my now award-winning film!)

very recent picture of me fighting (as part of my now award-winning film!)

backgrounds as movement artists: martial artists, fencers, the few and far between dancer (this is my particular gateway). What we share in common is an interest in safety, an interest in illusion, and an interest in making cool stage pictures. What this means effectively is that talking shop happens often and can be just the thing for making the poor diners at the next table have the most unforgettable date of their lives.

When I was still working out of New York, I remember one particular lunch during which I was meeting with an FD to talk about a project. The topic of “found weapons” came up and he took a moment, picked up his fork, then proceeded to rattle off a list of about twenty-five ways he could injure, kill, or otherwise subdue various patrons with said implement of food-shoveling.

Recently, such gems as “it was my first lynching” and “this was my first school shooting” have been texted or otherwise uttered to me.

In the past month, I’ve been (literally) swept off my feet mid conversation several times because my partner wanted to take a moment and demonstrate a technique we had just been discussing (…being a responsible partner, he makes sure to check if there’s a soft landing place if he intends to take me to the ground, but the most common stage combat throw actually works better with somewhere firm to land so that particular instance was on concrete).

This series of encounters led to me having to think about (and voice) one evening: “Oh, just FYI, please don’t throw me tonight – I have an injury I’m healing.” Because, you know, everyone should check in with themselves when they know who they are dining with on a given evening and ensure that they are physically up to the task.

We’ve discussed eye gouges over hummus and coffee.

Very old picture of me fighting (circa 2005)

Very old picture of me fighting (circa 2005)

We’ve also had lengthy talks about blood and how neither of us particularly care for working with it. I’m reasonably certain that the other café patrons thought we had a Dexter-mobile outside.

Perhaps the most amusing of these instances was a late-night encounter with Tufts Campus security. We were reviewing grappling techniques and take-downs on the big, soft lawn at midnight (because, well, that’s what you do when you’re not otherwise gainfully employed). We realized through this process that there were, in fact, several security-mobiles circling. We managed to behave ourselves like normal people while being hit with the headlights, and ironically enough it wasn’t until we were sitting and yapping at each other about historical fencing manuals that an officer actually approached us. Luckily we’re nicely dressed, intelligent people so it wasn’t much of an issue at that juncture.

My point today is this: if you, in your travels, are searching for a little adventure and variety in your social life, I highly suggest befriending a stage combatant (or, if you’re really looking for some spunk, an FD). We’re cuddly people with good stories to tell and you never know when you may need to not kick someone’s ass.

The Rosalind Diaries: Entry Seven; Putting it Together

Last night, for the first time, we ran the entire show.  We stopped for a five-minute intermission, but other than that we just kept going.

And last night, for the first time, it really felt like it worked.

We didn’t have the full set, we didn’t have lights, and most people didn’t use their

Touchstone finds Rosalind reading Orlando’s poems in the forest

costumes (I did to try and make sure my changes work – they should; though my quick-change at the end is going to be a bit of a bitch).  But we did it.

Coming off the heels of a rehearsal in which I felt like nothing worked, it was pretty spectacular to leave last night feeling like something fell into place.  I wasn’t word perfect, and I know that the other actors weren’t either.  There were some few calm calls for line, but I know I could have fought through them if I had wanted to.  The pace still needs to be picked up before performance.  But those things aside, we did it.  We stumbled through.

And let me tell you, it can only go up from here, and it’s really going to be good.

Orlando and I have been in deep conversation about how to make 3.2 work.  We’ve been trying to feed things in; ideas, notions, impulses, anything to get a different reading than just something flat.  Last night, for the first time, we had a spark of something.  We were engaged with each other, we listened, and something worked.

I also owe a debt of gratitude to my dear friend Angelo who took time out of his busy schedule to run lines with me and coach me through this scene particularly when we realized how much it wasn’t working.  With his help, and with the support of my fellow cast-mates, something happened.

So; what worked?

I kept coming back to the idea that this was Rosalind’s first time really speaking with Orlando at any length.  Her disguise, the mask she wears in the forest, really frees her to say whatever she wants without consequence.  Her honor is only at stake if he discovers that she’s a woman, so so long as she can continue the charade of being Ganymede everything else will sort itself.  This scene is a desperate attempt to engage Orlando, an attempt to find a way to spend time with him in a situation that’s mediated and in which she makes the rules.  If she is teaching him courtship, then she has all the power (a situation which never would have been allowed at court).  Rosalind is a woman completely abandoned and betrayed by all the men in her life; her father was exiled, her uncle then exiles her; it makes sense that she would be wary around the guy she wishes would become her husband.  By making the rules herself, she takes a hand in her own fate and so setting up the Ganymede/Rosalind role-play concession is a vital step in ensuring a strong future for herself.

So what does a girl who likes a guy but is dressed like a guy say to that guy when she knows he kinda likes her back but she can’t reveal that she’s the one he’s in love with?

The answer is: she has a really hard time coming up with things to say.

Rosalind is a master of wit and she’s extremely good at entertaining people with it.  But when she sees Orlando in the forest and decides to speak with him, the best thing she can come up with to say is “What time is it?”

….stupid, stupid, stupid.

Once I was able to feed that nervous energy into the scene, it gave us somewhere to

Rosalind and Celia come upon Orlando carving Rosalind’s name into the poor trees of Arden

bounce from.  Orlando had to figure out why I could sometimes engage with him and sometimes not, which meant he was interested in what I was saying.  But I can’t let him get too physically close to me because, if I do, he may recognize me.  But at the same time, his eyes are really pretty and I really want to touch him, but it’s probably a bad idea.

The rubber-band action gives us something to play with, and makes sure that we keep moving (a MUST on a proscenium stage).

Another thing which really helped was a suggestion by our director to “earn the touch”.  There’s no way that Rosalind would touch Orlando casually (even if casual touching is something that I do rather frequently).  Every touch should be important, magical, and something we work up to.  Once we were able to emphasize the importance of the touch, we were able to really plug into the “I want to, but I can’t”, which in turn fed that nervous energy which the entire scene hinges upon.

So we did some solid work last night.  It’s only going to get better as we build, grow, and prepare because we open in a scant nine days (and it’s only eight days before our invited dress with talk-back).

Curious about seeing us in our full glory?  Tickets available here!


Over the weekend, good friends and readers, myself and my partner in crime will be migrating to its very own server.  You shouldn’t notice much change on user-side (at least for a bit…. I do plan to add some shiny new features as soon as I have access to my back end (… insert rude joke here)). 

 For now, please enjoy the following list of random quotes which have appeared in my life during the past few days:

 Partner: We still need to migrate DaniProse….
Me: Oh, yea!  To my very own Server!  And I shall be Queen of the Server!  And all shall love me and despair!
Partner: Well… it’s a shared server…
Me: Do I still get to be Queen of it?
Partner: Of course!  AND the Princess!

QP: What are you doing today?
Me: Learning German…
QP: Again?
Me: It takes a lot of time!
Me: ….. ich liebe dich weiter!

Director: Okay, we need to cut approximately 4,500 words from this script.
Me: *cracks knuckles, grabs red pen, eats a piece of chocolate*
Director: You go, girl. 

…it should be noted that when I came into work the next day, there was a small array of beautiful hand-crafted chocolate on a plate by my chair.  I looked at my director, “Is this a bribe?”
Director: If it gets you to cut more, I’ll provide chocolate. 

….later in that session when we hit a bit long speech… 

Director: (looks at me) Have some more chocolate! 

Have a fantastic weekend, and I’ll catch you on the new server!

Finals Land


Good friends and readers,

Hello from finals land.

This is a place slightly different from “finals panic” (which I was experiencing a few weeks ago).  This is a place where everything is mapped out, everything is drafted out, and all I have to do is continue working at a good clip to slide into the finish.

My last final is due May 13th.  And man, I cannot wait to plonk that baby down and close the book on what has been a phenomenal, engrossing, enormous, scary year.

The thing about finals land is that it is extremely draining.  The writing process, for me, is a slow one and one that requires meticulous drafting and re-drafting.  As I have previously mentioned, it takes between 6 and 8 drafts for me to produce something that I feel comfortable turning in.  I like to work on one draft a day but, as I am currently simultaneously grappling with three large papers, that means I’m required to produce approximately 21 drafts to feel good about my product.  I have 13 days to do it.  This means that I’m going to have to average 1.6 drafts a day (provided I take zero days off between now and due dates).  Which, realistically, means that I’m going to have to be churning out two drafts a day to give myself room for a breath sometime this weekend.

What this really and truly means is that my brain feels like a wrung-out sponge.  I feel like I’ve given everything I have to this semester and I simply have nothing left to give.

Unfortunately, I’ve not got the option to stop now.  There’s this last little bit of mountain to climb to get to the top of what’s been an arduous (but entirely rewarding) year.

There’s this saying in clown training; “find the energy”.  There are two zones in clowning; “the red” which is where you are when you are in-nose and thereby in-character, and “the black” which is somewhere below that, not quite fully to the point of true clown yet.  You get tired really quickly in clowning, it takes a lot to keep yourself going.  When you’re training to do it, you are constantly told to “find the energy”.  ImageDo whatever you need to do to keep yourself in the red.  Dance, throw stuff, run around, keep going, dip into the deep part of yourself where you store the bits that you don’t generally access and use those to fuel whatever it is you are doing until it’s done.

And really, these days, that’s all I’ve got.  I’ve got to find the energy to keep going, no matter where that energy comes from (at the moment, it’s coming from some lovely earl gray I’ve been drinking like it’s my job, though I may switch to something a little less caffeinated soon… also, girl scout cookies never hurt…).

In a few short weeks, I will be able to collapse and have a break (and trust me, in the two weeks between finals and my summer German class I intend to take full advantage of break time… if my past experience with graduate school has been at all indicative of my future experience with graduate school, I will be laid out on the couch unable to move for a solid three days before I regain the capacity to speak much less function in the real world).  In a few short weeks, I can pick up a book that I want to read and read it for no other reason than “I want to”.  In a few short weeks, I can hit all those extra random deadlines that have been lurking on the side of my whiteboard all but ignored because I simply did not have the time to devote attention to them.

…at least nature cooperated today.  It was a gray, dreary day here in Boston – the kind of day that really does make me want to curl up on my office futon with a blankie, a French press full of tea, and my writing to red-pen.  So that’s exactly what I did.

And I hit my writing goals.  Here’s hoping that mother nature continues to cooperate and doesn’t insist on too many beautiful days between now and the 13th.

News from the Front

Hello, friends and readers!

This is a drive-by with a tidbit of intelligence from the front…

As I have previously mentioned, my tweet has made it to the final round of voting for the Tufts GSAS Tweet of the Semester competition!  Winning this competition brings honor and glory to my department, and a gift certificate to the school bookstore for me (vital to us starving graduate students).  If you would like to contribute to the success of my future book-buying endeavors, please consider taking a moment to head over here and give my tweet some love.

If I pull through a win this semester (I did last semester!), I will find some special awesomeness to put up on the blog here.  I’m not quite sure what yet… but I’m creative.  I’m sure I’ll think of something.

And now, I return you to your regularly scheduled programming while I return to the lines and battle the deadly homework beast.  I think I’m making some headway!

The Space Race

This week in New York theatre was a big week for Shakespeareans as the acclaimed Theatre for a New Audience broke ground on their long-anticipated space in Brooklyn. The new theatre, scheduled to be operational by the Spring of 2013 when Julie Taymor will direct their pilot show, will feature 27,500 square feet, a 299 seat house, fully adjustable seating, trap doors, a 35-foot fly space (absolutely novel for an off-Broadway house), and be the first large house in New York specifically built for classical theatre since Lincoln Center built the Vivian Beaumont in 1965.

It is more than interesting to me that New York has remained the American capital of Theatre for this reason in particular: the one thing that Theatre absolutely requires (and is

Theatre for a New Audience's concept sketch for the new theatre; inside

at a premium in New York) is space. Theatre requires space in vast quantities and not just for performance. Rehearsal, planning, pre-production, storage, building; every single step of the theatrical process is large and booming and cannot be accomplished without this most basic of necessities.

Having owned and operated a small theatre company in New York, I can tell you from personal experience that the city itself, which should be a veritable playground for thespians, is theatrically prohibitive. Space is difficult to come by and thereby expensive. Renting space in New York is nearly impossible for an up-and-coming company, and let’s not even get started with what it would take to purchase a space. Perhaps the worst part is that minimalists like me are doomed to the realm of unprofessionalism (though the city has seen an upswing of alternative performance spaces this season). There are only so many of your friends whom you can convince that rehearsing in your living room is a good idea. By the time you’ve entered the realm of classical theatre; of swordplay and dancing; you’ve outgrown any such capacity. Perhaps meetings and readings are coffee table fare, but the cost of a latte (even a Starbucks latte) will only take you so far into the rehearsal process.

Theatre for a New Audience's new theatre - architectural rendering; external

Creativity is pivotal to the would-be New York producer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve choreographed fights on rooftops for lack of a better play area. Perhaps the most inspiring space I’ve worked in was a kindergarten playroom within the 92nd street Y at which several afternoon of hacking at “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [abrgd]” yielded an interpretive dance of the apocrypha featuring a giant wooden cross made of legos and a punching nun pursued by a toy Godzilla lashed to a remote-control car (…we may or may not have acquired any number of these items from the playroom directly…).

There is something to be said, however, for consistency in a rehearsal space. Semi-permanent resources within the rehearsal space can be a lifeline in even a simple production. Rehearsal boxes (square boxes of varying sizes painted black and found in just about every professional rehearsal space) can become anything at the drop of a hat. Often directors get so attached to these boxes that they become integrated in the final production. Beyond this, the chest of random costume/prop items inevitably required at some point in the rehearsal process can become prohibitive for Stage Managers to drag into/out of rehearsal spaces (especially when dealing with public transportation). The rehearsal space is where you eat, breathe, bleed, cry, and (sometimes) sleep. It’s important to be comfortable there. A coffee maker in the rehearsal room can brighten the day of any SM (and generally appease cranky directors).

Then there’s the performance space. With rental costs in New York being so very high, generally the small theatre company looks to rent a space for the least amount of non-lucrative days as possible. What this often means is a rushed tech in one day and (at best) one full dress run before the show goes up, then load-out on closing night between curtain and the cast party.

Believe me, it sucks.

So why hasn’t the base of theatre operations moved somewhere a little more spacious? Somewhere where elbowroom is a-plenty and the cost of land is low? Somewhere a mere train ride away from the hustle, bustle, and main audience of any given production? Regional summer-stock is a time-honored tradition amongst the flocks of New York actors who suddenly find themselves employed to travel for three months out of the year… but why haven’t most of these theatre companies expanded to offer year-round employment opportunities for ramen-eating artists?

I really have no idea. It seems to me that the quality of theatre (or at least its flashiness) could be greatly improved by such a move as it would mean much less money devoted to the bare-bones necessities which could instead be diverted to other productions costs. I think the sensible businessman would whine about the reduced potential audience of a show staged on a commuter rail rather than a subway line, but accessibility historically hasn’t stopped regional theatre. Are we just holding out for a big Broadway dream and wavering on progress because of tradition? Is the theatre community stifled by some idea of what it should be rather than what it could be?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally stoked about this new space. I hope to perform/direct there someday. And, Spiderman aside, I’m wickedly jealous of Taymor’s opportunity…. It just seems to me that the money spent on this facility could be better spent on a facility somewhere a little less expensive.

A Ghostly Pilgrimage

In making my final preparations for the Great Northern Migration, I have been attending to certain things which have, for whatever reason, escaped that attention for the duration of my New York/New Jersey existence. One of these things is a trip to the sleepy little village of Sleepy Hollow.

Yes. The Sleepy Hollow. Ready for some history?

Washington Irving was born in New York City on April 3, 1783. In 1798, a Manhattan outbreak of yellow fever prompted the Irvings to send young Washington to live with some family friends in Tarrytown (Sleepy Hollow is a tiny speck on the map right next to Tarrytown). Sleepy Hollow must have left an impression since Irving wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow during the subsequent seventeen-year span when he was living in Europe and it was published with a collection of his short stories in 1820. Irving returned to America in 1832 and traveled for two years before he purchased a home in Tarrytown (which he named “Sunnyside”). Irving died on November 28, 1859 and was buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery on December 1st. The “Sleepy Hollow Cemetery” was actually officially named the “Tarrytown Cemetery” right up until an 1849 letter from Irving suggesting the name change in order to preserve the Cemetery via Irving’s literary fame.

Horseman Bridge

The Bridge

Well… it worked. Today, the entire area is steeped in Irvingism from the nearby Horseman Diner (AWESOME sweet potato fries!), to annual October readings of Irving’s piece at the Old Dutch Church, to a famed “Headless Horseman Ride” during which the horseman begins at the cemetery and rides horseback through the village (yes, it’s a village… not a town, not a city). Without Irving, Sleepy Hollow would have remained sleepy, a nearly-invisible speck on the map. Also on view in the cemetery are several graves from the Van Tassel clan. Apparently Irving stole the name from a local family and Katrina herself is believed to be based upon local resident Eleanor Van Tassel Brush (noteworthily, Eleanor’s aunt was named Catriena Ecker Van Tessel).

So as I strolled the scenic graveyard and langoured in the afternoon light within the arches of the Old Dutch Church, I couldn’t help but recall the long tradition of which I was

the Irving Family plot

the Irving family plot

partaking.  Literary tourism is a noble institution famously popular during the nineteenth century. The Romantics, it turns out, had a penchant for visiting Burns’ cottage and Shakespeare’s house. Today, literary tourism remains popular as people flock to Dublin on June 16th to celebrate Bloomsday and continually visit the birthplaces and dwellings of authors such as Poe, Wharton, and Faulkner.

There are two kinds of literary tourism: the first being an inclination to visit the places described within a story (i.e. Bloomsday tourists visiting Dublin a la its depiction in Joyce’s Ulysses or the crowds of people who visit Verona to see Juliet’s balcony), and the second being a desire to see the residences of the authors themselves (see above examples). Sleepy Hollow encompasses both. I can stand at Irving’s grave and see, just beyond the hill, where the Horseman’s bridge once was (it has since been demolished and replaced with a plaque marking its passing and a modern car-bridge).

Shakespeare’s own residences have undergone a more-than-slightly humorous past. Today when you go to Stratford upon Avon, you are welcomed to visit the several historical residences in and around the town by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, an organization

Shakespeare's Birthplace

Shakespeare's Birthplace on Henley Street (back end)

founded in 1847 following its purchase of the Shakespeare Birthplace house on Henley Street and said house’s categorization as a national monument. The Trust owns and maintains five historic properties as well as a library which houses a treasure trove of Shakespearey goodness (including, by the way, an archive of footage of RSC productions and sundry other video Shakespeare projects…but I digress).

This was not always the case.

Shakespeare was survived by his wife Anne (Hathaway-then-Shakespeare) and his daughters Judith (Shakespeare-then-Quiney) and Susanna (Shakespeare-then-Hall). Upon Dear William’s death in 1616, his birthplace was bequeathed to Susanna and kept in


the more-famous front of Shakespeare's Birthplace on Henley Street

the family until 1806 when a local butcher (Thomas Court) purchased it. By this point in time, New Place (Shakespeare’s adult residence) had burned down leaving only its foundation (there is an amusing anecdote about a previous owner desecrating the property since he was tired of tourists knocking on its door requesting to see it). The Shakespeare Birthplace, then, was the only surviving property directly linked to Shakespeare, though the Hathaway cottage as well as Hall’s Croft (both down the way) still survived. Upon the death of Court’s widow in 1846, the Shakespeare birthplace was put up for sale.

New Place

all that survives of Shakespeare's adult residence (New Place)

At this juncture, the house was in disrepair and shambles after hundreds of years of use without maintenance. No one cared about it and it was, in all likelihood, going to be left to rot. It was at this point that P.T. Barnum stepped in. The ultimate businessman, Barnum realized the great potential for the monument and offered/threatened to buy it and move it to the States brick by brick.

Well the Brits couldn’t have this. In retaliation to Barnum’s offer, several enraged private citizens founded the Shakespeare Birthday Committee and, backed by a few pretty hefty names in English lit at the time, raised the money to purchase the property and have it converted to a national monument. The Shakespeare Birthday Committee was subsequently re-named the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and has remained a private organization ever since, operating solely off of donations and volunteer work rather than government funding.

It takes a certain kind of person to care about this sort of thing, be it an American author’s final resting place or the house in which an English author was born. Often-times they seem like bastions of fiction within reality; tethers between this world and another invented one. Places of creative storms of brilliance which, when visited, leave impressions upon the traveler that time cannot fade. What I have noticed is that each has its own sense of peace, of calm, of stillness as though, at any moment, the storm may strike again.

P.S. All photos here were taken by me at some point or another.  As such, they are mine and copyright me.  Don’t steal ’em!

>Guest Speaker


Yesterday, I had the good fortune of attending a reading/talk with Nobel-prize winning author Toni Morrison. 
By now, you very likely have heard about the Rutgers Snooki scandal (just to sum things up: Rutgers paid Morrison 30K to appear.  Rutgers paid Snooki 32K to speak.  Anyone else sick to their stomach?).  I’m not going to rant about this.  I’m also not going to talk about the ethics of a public university which serves a largely under-funded student body spending so many zeroes on things like guest speakers.  Notably, I do not believe that the reading which I attended was part of Morrison’s 30K commencement speech deal.  I’m not entirely certain how/why Morrison wound up in Newark, but I’m frightfully glad that she did.
As an added bonus, we were graced with the presence of Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker who has been making a real splash on the political scene with the things that he’s done for this city.  He’s an articulate, smart, passionate individual and it was a true joy to heard him give Morrison’s introduction.
When Morrison took the stage, I noticed a few things instantly.  First: Toni Morrison is old!  She’s an eighty-year-old woman!  They wheeled her on and off the stage in a wheelchair, though she managed to walk herself to the center-stage table where they had a seat prepared for her.  I suppose I’ve never really thought about her age; like all literary figures she’s ageless to me.  In addition, with the frequent highly sexual and sexualized nature of her works, I don’t really want to think of her as a grandma.
She still has her trademark dreads (though they’re a lovely silver color) and she wore them back in a pink bandana.  Her voice is rich and soothing with an occasional Southern-esque drawl to it which comes out more the more she speaks.  She started out faltering with frequent pauses, but as she became comfortable lit up the stage with energy, light, and life.
She read us a section of a work in progress (which was a treat in and of its own right).  Sitting in the room with hundreds of other people, somehow as she was reading I was brought right up next to her.  As my imagination collided with hers (an image which she herself used in describing fiction), I was no longer seated in an audience but rather in her living room.  She was speaking directly to me, telling me the story, making sure I was listening, seeing what I thought about her work… I would have listened to her go on all day.
Of course she’s a transcendent writer, but more than that she’s an engaging person.  She answers questions with grace and personality, never lacking in an entertaining anecdote which clearly displays her fearlessness.
Toni Morrison writes the sublime (and I mean that in a very aesthetic sense).  Her writing isn’t pretty or neat, it’s not tidy or simple.  Instead, it’s raw and deeply deeply uncomfortable.  I have trouble picking up her books because I know that the entire time I am reading them my stomach will be in knots.  Her books are terrible, powerful, and beautiful.  They are not something I willingly subject myself to more than once every few years.
So to see this little old woman speaking… this little old woman whose mind does and has encompassed and encompasses such genius… is like being in the presence of a true divine conductor.  It’s like some greater literary power flows down through her; like she channels the soul of an age and transmits it to paper and there it is, for all to see.
Maybe it’s time for me to pick up Song of Solomon… it’s been at least six months since I’ve considered slitting my wrists as a direct result of a piece of literature.