Google It

Ah the beginning of a new semester. Fresh new faces, a slew of new names to learn, and new classrooms full of new people to meet knowing that they’ve previously googled me.

As you know if you’ve done any reading of this blog, I keep and curate an extremely active digital presence. I also keep and curate a digital presence for several major professional organizations, and have helped even more begin their adventures into the digital world.

one of the more awesome shots that pops up in my google image search; me kicking butt at the Summer Sling this year

one of the more awesome shots that pops up in my google image search; me kicking butt at the Summer Sling this year

It’s not uncommon for me to meet people who are gun-shy about the internet. They think that curating an online persona entails revealing too much of their private lives, or somehow exposing themselves in a way they aren’t comfortable with.

The fact is this: in the digital era, you will have an internet presence. Depending upon the popularity of your name, that presence may or may not be immediately linked with you personally. Never doubt this, however: that presence can either harm or help you, and curating that presence is taking control of what happens when someone types your name into google.

Because, let’s face it, what do people do the minute an unfamiliar name crosses their desk? How to employers verify (or investigate) claims of expertise or previous employment? How does anyone know anything these days?

Taking your digital presence into your own hands is taking the power back from the system. By actively curating, you craft a presence that makes you more legitimate, more desirable, and more accessible.

In order to keep this presence clean and free of “unmentionable” (or at least unprofessional) personal information, the key is to create (and hold yourself accountable) to a set of personal protocol for social networking. Before I share anything on the internet, I take myself through a series of questions about the content. If the content doesn’t measure up to my protocol standards, I either find a way to share it that is protected by security measures (like facebook permissions groups, password walls, or private e-mails), or keep it to myself.

Here is my list of primary content questions that I make myself ask about anything before I post it to the internet:

             Would you be comfortable with someone reading this (tweet, status, blog, etc.) out loud at a job interview?

             Would you be comfortable with your students knowing these things?

             Would you be comfortable with this content being read aloud to your tenure review board?

 These are my “red flag” questions; i.e.: if the answer to any one of these questions is “no”, the content is not fit to be posted publicly. If the content is green-lit by these standards, I further ask myself:

             Are you currently of sound mind? (…i.e.: have you slept enough? Had your coffee yet today? Eaten recently? All of these are key factors that could influence good decision-making).

            Have you re-read this content to check for grammar, spelling, and proper attribution?

            Have you fact-checked this content with a reliable source?

These questions are “shelf it” questions; if I answer “no” to any of them, I can’t post the

Pro tip: google image will also pull from your youtube account; here's a still from some action vid of me cracking my bullwhip courtesy of this feature

Pro tip: google image will also pull from your youtube account; here’s a still from some action vid of me cracking my bullwhip courtesy of this feature

content until that answer turns into a “yes”. They won’t necessarily prevent me from posting something, but they certainly do some work to ensure the quality of my posts.

So as you begin to meet fresh faces this year, consider implementing your own set of standards for what the internet has to say about you. And, if you’re not already, consider putting your own two cents into the mix. I guarantee that, with some effort, the long run will be worth it.

Finding Neverland

The other night I had the rare opportunity of seeing a show without the added pressure of reviewing it. While I absolutely love reviewing, I’ve been doing so much of it these days that it’s almost inconceivable to go to enjoy a piece simply as an audience member, so when I get to it’s definitely a treat.

"Finding Neverland" production Photo by  Evgenia Eliseeva; courtesy of the ART Media Repository

“Finding Neverland” production Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva; courtesy of the ART Media Repository

The A.R.T. has really been on a roll of late. With their many direct-to-Broadway productions over the past couple years, it’s definitely challenged Boston theater makers in terms of what gets put onstage here in the Northeast. The most recent from ART to the great white way is Finding Neverland, a musical adaptation of the Johnny Depp film we all know and love about J.M. Barrie writing childhood classic Peter Pan.

First of all: the show is excellent, the talented performers are spectacular, and it’s going to do really well on Broadway.

But what really struck me the other night was the audience. I see my share of shows at the ART and Oberon, and there’s definitely a huge demographic difference between the main stage and the avant-garde space tucked away in the back end of Harvard Square. But the other night, I saw something truly incredible: children in the audience.

People were taking their kids to see theatre. Whole families had come to see this show. I can’t even begin to tell you how magical that is; and how incredible a success it is to encourage this kind of theater going.

As someone who sees a lot of theater, I can tell you: audiences ain’t getting any younger. The vast majority of houses I wind up sitting in are filled with adults over the age of 40 (the Broadway League declares that the average age of a Broadway theatregoer was 42.5 years in 2012-2013). It’s pretty clear why this is a problem: as the audience grows old enough that they are unable to see theatre, the theatres will empty out. The bottom line is that if we don’t train a new generation of audiences, then we work in an art that is doomed to slowly strangle itself unto death.

Theatre which encourages young audiences to love it is theatre which does vital work in the community. And oh boy did they love it; listening to chatter betwixt parent and child during intermission and as we slowly filtered out of the auditorium, I couldn’t help but find the joy infectious.

So go see Finding Neverland; because it’s a good show, but also because we need to support theatre that supports theatre.

Unleashing the Crackin’

The weather here has FINALLY gotten nice on a consistent basis, which means that in spite of the move I’ve been trying extra hard to get out and enjoy the sun (you know, while it lasts and it’s not so hot that I think my face is melting off).

For most people, “getting out to enjoy the weather” might mean a walk, a picnic, a round of Frisbee with friends in the park… while I enjoy most of these things (except for Frisbee… what is even the point of Frisbee? Frisbees were like the thing man made to prove that other men were dumb because they could never get the darn thing to fly much less fly in the direction they wanted it to… not that I’m bitter about a piece of plastic or anything), the nice weather more means that I get to break out my toys on a consistent basis.

I’ve already touted the importance of lateral thinking and study breaks that encourage physical activity. When I was studying for my German exam, I taught myself to play the ukulele during study breaks because it was the only thing that would reset my brain for MORE FLASHCARDS when I felt that gray matter was going to start leaking out of my ear any minute. Also, since I’m a pretty awful guitar player (self-taught during high school… I can eke out about four chords on a good day), I figured I’d be a passable ukulele player (so far, this theory has proven to be true).

When I was studying for my comps last summer, I opted for something a little more fighty and a little less musical. My sister and her now-husband are pretty much experts in the art of bullwhip cracking and have shown me a few things over the years. With their help, and the assistance of several youtube videos, I managed to coerce my body into learning the finesse and art of the bullwhip.

First things first: I would never advocate playing with weapons

This is my object lesson about why eye protection is important

This is my object lesson about why eye protection is important

without careful professional supervision. This is PARTICULARLY true when you’re dealing with projectiles, or weapons that are fluid/non rigid. Swords are much easier to control than bullwhips. If you want to take up a dangerous hobby, try swords first. You’re much less likely to hurt yourself. In other words: don’t try this at home unless you understand that playing with any weapon involves an innate risk, and that your risk is much greater if you lack proper supervision and understanding of said weapon.

I’ve cracked myself several times over the course of learning the bullwhip and don’t foresee this stopping anytime in the near future. Understanding how to control a six-foot length of kangaroo hide moving faster than the speed of sound has a definite learning curve. Always wear eye protection, and be prepared that you’re going to get yourself good probably sooner rather than later and probably more than once.

If you encounter people cracking in public parks, here are a few good rules of thumb: don’t sneak up close to them while they are practicing. If you’re interested and would like to ask questions, chances are we’re used to hearing those questions and would be happy to answer them. Wait patiently at a healthy distance (at least 15 feet; if you feel “unsafe” then you are probably in the danger zone), and approach respectfully (not because we are innately violent people, but because wouldn’t you like people to be nice to you if they wanted to know things about your hobbies?). While the cracker is (we hope) HIGHLY aware of people in her zone, do keep an eye on your kids. Most children have a healthy self-preservation instinct, but you never know when someone is going to fail a Darwin check. Honestly, when I practice in public, I try to find a place far away from small children (as a safety precaution, but also because I can’t always give my “don’t try this at home” speech to passers-by and the last thing I want is for a child to injure itself trying to be as cool as Indiana Jones). This is not always possible. Crackers need grass (concrete or stone chews up whips and they are investments; especially leather ones), we need open spaces away from low-hanging trees or branches, and we need a place away from people. If I can find all of these things AND no four-footers in sight, I’ll always opt for that. But if my only choice is to be somewhere within eyesight of a family with children, there’s not much I can do about it.

Really, all you need to do is be aware that someone is practicing a martial art nearby. So long as you keep yourself away from the hurty end of the whip, you’ll be fine. And you’ll probably get a neat show to boot; whippersnappers are nothing but show-people. You don’t really take up a hobby like the bullwhip and not expect to get stared at a lot.

Happy cracking!

The Tempest

Since taking a post as a theatre reviewer with New England Theatre Geek, it’s not very often that I get to see a show without a pen and reviewer notebook in hand. It’s also not very often that I get to see a show with no obligation to come home and write a poignant yet witty review about it. So I find it a wee bit hilarious that the first time I’ve been out to see a show I wasn’t reviewing in some time, I immediately came home with the urge to write about it.

I’ve been waiting for the A.R.T.’s production of The Tempest since they announced their season last year. You heard me correctly; it’s been over a year that I’ve been champing at the bit for a chance to see this show. Last night, the man and I finally made it out to experience the magic and it was well worth the wait.

As a child, I spent a lot of time hanging out with magicians. As a kid, one Saturday a month was devoted to a road trip to the not-so-local local chapter of the Society of Young Magicians. There, myself and a couple of other like-minded individuals (including my brother who was the one who got us all into this mess in the first place) would sit at the knees of local magicians and learn magic tricks. It seemed commonplace to me to come home with playing cards tucked in various surreptitious pockets of my clothing (because it was a favorite game to reverse pick-pocket cards onto other people without them noticing… and actually, a great exercise in prestidigitation for the developing table magician), to look for jackets with giant pockets or loose lining in which more pockets could be sewn, to figure out whether it would be doves or rabbits that were the chosen animal of the house and, thereby, the focus of the next big trick. Eventually, we grew old enough to join the real society and because of this childhood influence, I have a soft spot for magicians and a fascination with magic in general. Despite the fact that I can’t do a card trick to save my life (trust me, I’ve tried), I am a long-standing card-carrying member of the Society of American Magicians.

Magic… plus Shakespeare. It’s a theme that I’ve been turning over in my head for some time. Would one distract from the other? Would people come to see this show just because of its famous producer (Teller of Las Vegas fame)? Would it rub up against all of my traditionalist sensibilities?

Apparently, add some Tom Waits into the mix and you get veritable alchemy.

The show I saw onstage last night was definitive for me in a way that no show has been since I had the opportunity to see the McKellon Lear at the RSC in 2007. The Tempest is a show with problems: music, which is always a challenge since there are no melody notations left from Shakespeare’s songs; long and rambling courtly scenes that if done improperly will just drag on and on and dull your audience into the same slumber that Ariel visits upon the hapless mariners; an ingénue that’s nearly impossible to play; and spirits of all types which appear and disappear seemingly at the whim of the playwright.

Prospero (Tom Nelis)  and Ariel (Nate Dendy) conjuring the storm.  Photo courtesy of the Smith Center/Geri Kody

Prospero (Tom Nelis) and Ariel (Nate Dendy) conjuring the storm. Photo courtesy of the Smith Center/Geri Kody

I’ve seen good productions of The Tempest before, but they all pale in comparison to what’s onstage at the A.R.T. right now. “Inhuman” gains new meaning, as does “American” representations of England’s playwright laureate.

There’s a sense of danger on Prospero’s island, and magic lurks in every corner. Ariel is ever-present/absent, seen and unseen, all-powerful and completely subjugated. The music is part of the island (literally and figuratively) and comes from a band that looks like it could have bubbled forth from the sea itself. The director was not afraid to cut the text; a necessity to keep the long scenes short and the short scenes pithy. Instead of losing content, this gave the show more room to explore what it clearly set out to do: re-add the “magic” back to this late Romance in a way that I don’t think the stage will see again.

Since my dissertation deals so heavily with American Shakespeare and since that project has taken so much out of me lately, I was exhilarated to be so thrilled by a landmark production right in my backyard. Enchanted by Teller’s tale, I can say with some certainty that this energy was just what I needed to get me through the current busy-times slump.

I wish I could tell you to go see it, but every show is sold out. Standing room tickets are available on the day-of performance at the A.R.T. Box office. The Tempest closes on June 15th, so if any of what I’ve said intrigues you, don’t wait for the storm to pass.

Goodbye, Old Friends

Over the weekend, I worked on my bookshelves.

I am currently in the process of packing for a long-anticipated move. As I’ve often said, the vast majority of my belongings consists of yarn, clothing, and books. In my current apartment, I have the luxury of an entire room devoted solely to my books and almost nothing else (it’s also got a sadly underused dining room table, but that’s a permissible addition to a library… especially since it’s positioned in such a way as to not take up any precious wall space). I have a LOT of books.

Compound this with the number of library checkouts I have and you’ve got yourself a real problem. I’ve actually had to strategize how I’m going to move my books (for those who are curious: I’ve carefully documented my library checkouts and have started to systematically return them since they will almost all come due when I’m on my grand research adventure in New York anyway and its much easier to tote them back in twenty-book loads to the library and leave them to the tender care of librarians there than it is to

Breakfast in my library

Breakfast in my library

box them up and cart them with my other belongings across town to my new digs, the whole while fervently hoping that none of them will go missing en route).

Phase one was implemented this weekend in which I went through all of my books and decided which I am keeping, and which I am parting with.

This is a HUGE decision. For more people, hanging onto books is a matter of “will I read this again or not?” For a budding professor, hanging onto books is a matter of “will I ever need to reference this, or teach it, or give it to a student to read?” There were whole piles of books that I kept because, while I certainly wouldn’t read them if left to my own devices, I do anticipate needing to teach them at some point in the near future.

Predicting the future is a matter of foreseeing the canon. While I know what is likely to be on a general intro to theatre history class syllabus right now, how about when I teach? Will the department demand things of me that I sadly gave away in my last move? Will I get the chance to teach a class that I’m really really prepared for (say, Early Modern Theatre History), or will I be asked to stretch into something that is slightly out of my ballpark (like Modern and Postmodern Theory)?

It’s all a balancing act. I tend to dispose of things that A) I am not very likely to teach, and B) are readily available online. If B is true, then A is less important. If A is true, then I double-check B first. The age of the internet has made teaching materials plentiful and it’s incredible just how many primary sources I can access from my desk at home without even requiring a library log-in.

While it pains me to thin out my collection, the new place has one flight of stairs which I will have to personally cart every single box up. A good question that I ask myself is “is this book worth carrying on my back up that flight of stairs?” If no, then out it went.

Don’t worry, by the way. I would never do something so horrendous as actually destroy a book. I have re-sold all of my leavings to a mom-and-pop shop that functions on this kind of book “donation” and they will all be lovingly read and re-read by drama enthusiasts in years to come. Either that or “up cycled” into etsy art projects, but I’m definitely hoping for the former rather than the latter.

Godspeed, little books! May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

…and may my move proceed without much stress, drama, or hassle. Because one thing is for sure: I can sugar coat this all I want, but at the end of the day I REALLY hate moving.

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.

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.

 

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!

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.