School’s out for Summer

Yesterday, I attended the last class of my PhD.

This isn’t to be confused with completing coursework (which won’t happen until my papers are all firmly nestled into the appropriate inboxes, a momentous occasion which will occur next Wednesday) and, really, knowing me I won’t be satisfied until the grades all pop up on my transcript affirming, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that this is (in fact) real.

The class was a five-hour lecture wrapping up my ancient theatre course.  This particular lecture covered Sturm und Drang, Weimar Classicism, and Romanticism.  It also included a “presentation” I had prepped on Goethe’s relationship with Shakespeare (I put “presentation” in quotation marks because it wasn’t a “talk at the class for x amount of time” kinda deal but rather a “do a lot of reading and act as a pop-up video as we discuss the course reading” sort of thing).  This class wasn’t a small deal at all.

But I survived.  The class ended with the professor making a few profound remarks about

Yup.  It's me.  Slaying zombie Shakespeare.  Because I roll that way.

Yup. It’s me. Slaying zombie Shakespeare. Because I roll that way.

how far we had come and it took all my self-restraint not to stand up in my chair and yet “AMEN TO THAT!”  For me, she wasn’t just talking about her course (though certainly we had come a long way there), but rather the progression of my graduate career at Tufts.  Two academic years ago, I was sitting in a room, terrified, and waiting for someone to stand up, point at me, and shout “you don’t belong here!” before systematically evicting me from the premises never to return again.  That feeling of being a fraud, not worthy of the opportunities allotted me in my career, has faded over time.  I’ve learned so many things these past two years; some quantifiable, some not.

Among the other things I’m proud of, here’s a reasonably superficial list in terms of its breadth and depth, but it should at least give you some idea of the way I’ve changed as a scholar since my wide-eyed arrival at Tufts University:

I’ve learned how to gain access to (and dig through) an archive.  I’ve learned how to cite the sources that I find there and use them in a paper that I may, someday, publish.

I’ve learned how to get on a plane to a city I’ve never been and be totally comfortable (if a little nervous the first time or two) spending two to four days networking my little Shakespearean heart out with people whom I have never met before, and may be Top Men in my field.

I’ve learned how to write better, how to read better, and how to think better.

I’ve learned about playwrights I’d never though I’d read, performances I’d never known existed, and theorists I’d never hoped to “meet”.

I’ve learned how to talk about my own work in a way that isn’t a snooze-fest (though this will depend upon the audience, of course.  Even I can’t make the deep technical aspects of some of my research appeal to everyone).

I’ve learned to read and translate German (…though this is a skill that I’ll be cultivating for some time).

I’ve learned that when in doubt, just look.  And when looking doesn’t help you, just ask.  There are always people there to turn to.

I’ve learned that it’s amazing what people will do/reveal when you ask them questions.  So many people are willing to be so generous with their time if you’re just nice to them.

Yesterday's theory board doodle

Yesterday’s theory board doodle

I’ve learned that reference librarians are veritable deities and should be worshiped as such.

I’ve learned that it’s not enough to think, you must do.  Touch the ground and your work will always have more depth and meaning.  This means it’s not enough just to think about theatre; go see theatre.  Make theatre.  Get your hands dirty.  If we forget why we fell in love with the field in the first place, there’s no way that we’re going to last in it (and there’s no way that we’re going to make our students love it).

I’ve learned that just because it’s obvious to you does not mean that it’s obvious to anyone else, or that it does not need to be said.  And, moreover, if you don’t say it, someone else will.  Jump on it, take credit for your ideas, and you’ll go much further than if you just simper and mull them to yourself.

…this list could continue ad infinitum but I’ve still got a paper to write.  I hope that your finals are treating you well, you’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and that you can take some time today to remember why it is (precisely) that you do this.

…or you could just watch this:

Hey, Hey and Away we Go

Well, that was a long day.  Thursdays, it turns out, are going to be doozies for a while.

I begin with Directing (the class I TA).  After an hour and a half, I have approximately an hour to myself.  An hour, by the by, turns out to be just enough time that it makes you feel like you should be doing something, but not long enough to truly accomplish anything.  In other words, just long enough to make you anxious without the substance to do anything about this anxiety.  Today, my netbook proved angry at me for failing to turn it on more than once this summer.  It is a small bit of technology with a small brain and, for a cheap computer, rather advanced in years, so I can’t say that I blame it for wanting more attention; it figures that it would be today of all days that the darn thing decided to act up.

After this time, I whisk my way down to my own class (Theory).  Today was particularly

yup. My job.

exciting because it was the first class of my semester that I am actually taking.  This also meant that I got to meet the new crop of first years.

We had a veritable deluge of first years this year.  There are a lot of new faces, new voices, and new people about the department.  Since the department is very small, this means a lot of new things to get used to.  What it also means is that class sizes are larger.  This year, our classes cap out at seventeen.  Last year, my largest class had ten.  These seemingly similar numbers are in actuality vastly different in the context of discussion-based courses (especially those held in small seminar rooms).  It feels different; rather than a round-table, we feel like a motley hoard.  I’m going to be interested to see what this hoard shapes up to in terms of actual class discussion.

Unfortunately, my experience with larger classes is that the strong voices remain strong and the weak fade into the background.  Those who are aggressive fight, those who are more inclined to sit back and let thing wash over them have the security to do so.  This makes the conversation imbalanced and, often, repetitive.  I look forward to seeing how the professors (whom I have the utmost respect for) solve this particular teaching dilemma and help to retain order within the seminar room.

One of the most exciting things about meeting the first years is understanding the new classroom dynamic.  Who is going to speak with a loud voice?  What will be the timbre of that voice?  What opinions do these people have, how hard are they willing to fight, and how are they going to bring their vast array of different knowledges/experiences to the table?

One of my favorite parts about academia is the argument.  One of my colleagues made the apt observation just the other day that “it’s always a fight with you”.  Preparing for class, for me, is donning armor and honing my blade.  Having a roomful of new opponents is the most tantalizing thing I could be presented with.  I was hard pressed not to lick my lips with a knowing grin as we went around introducing ourselves; lots of new and different specialties.  Plenty of fodder.  Let the bloodbath begin.

I rounded out my day at rehearsal.  We’re really getting into the thick of things now and

I also nearly finished the sock I was working on while at rehearsal today!

we’re at that point where most folks are mostly off book.  I myself am off book (though, again, I do need to call “LINE!” particularly when I get caught up in something).  This is a weird place to be.  While the words are in your head, you haven’t quite gotten them in your body yet.  You reach and strive for them and, though some layering comes naturally, often the most intense moments are still evasive.  For me, today, tackling 3.2 proved extremely frustrating.  This is the first scene in which Rosalind speaks with Orlando at any length, and she does so under the guise of Ganymede.  It’s almost specifically in prose (a challenge in itself) and I spend the scene giving speeches which mostly consist of lists.  As if that weren’t enough, capturing some sense of genuine emotion is a roller coaster.  The scene begins, for me, giddy in love and playing around with Celia and Touchstone about Orlando’s bad poetry.  After being ribbed good and hard, I have a few moments with Celia before I have to don the guise of Ganymede and play real, serious, and convincing.

The rhetoric bounces wildly, the mood changes drastically, and I’m still trying to remember all the gosh darn lists that Rosalind uses.

Suffice to say I didn’t quite hit the emotion that we need to drive this scene tonight.  But I have hope.  My scene partners, luckily, are fantastic.  With some more work, I have confidence that we can get there.

…and now, officially, to tackle my real job: reading.  I think I was sorely mistaken when I held the belief that second year would be easier than first year.

Ah, well, back into the fray.

Follow the Yellow-Brick Road

Have you ever been working on something for so long and so hard that eventually the result simply feels like a dream?  Dreamt about something enough and, when it becomes a reality, you feel as though you’ve fallen asleep in class rather than brought the castle down from its cloud?

To make any claim other than I feel like I’ve been wandering the land of Oz for the past month and a half would be an outright lie.  I’m not in Kansas anymore and, while Jerry may not be Toto, he is rather fuzzy.

This week, two things happened which worked to either cement the Oz fantasy or prove to

of course, I'd need some stylish ruby slippers... though they aren't quite practical for lugging library books

me that yes, this is really happening, and I am exactly where I’ve pictured myself for so very long.

Thing number one: I wrote (or rather co-wrote) and submitted a course application to the experimental college at Tufts.  This included drafting my own syllabus.  I selected books.  I assigned readings.  I thought about pacing and assignments and grading!  I even went through and tried to pick my favorite edition of Shakespeare (it’s like picking a favorite child for me… I kind of collect Complete Works).  And at the end of it, there it was, my name at the top of the syllabus listed as “instructor”.

Well that’s a rush.

At this point in my life, syllabi have become more than pieces of paper; they are a way of life.  My first syllabus was gifted to me my Senior year of high school by my humanities instructor (a certain Susan Sabatino at the Professional Performing Arts School in New York City…. Yea, I went to the fame school.  Yea, it was kind of exactly like the movie.  Yea, I have some stories to tell…).  This is perhaps made more poignant by the fact that my partner in crime for this endeavor is an individual whom I roamed those hallowed halls with.  But I digress.

When Ms. Sab passed the syllabus out that first day of class, she said “this bit of paper is worth its weight in gold.  No, not gold, platinum.”

And thus my relationship with the syllabus began.  I don’t think one can possibly understand the impact that those little bits of paper can have on one’s life.  At first they seem odd; assignments?  Due dates?  A plan for the ENTIRE SEMESTER?  What is this?  Eventually, though, one begins to love the syllabus.  It dictates one’s schedule for the week, month, year.  It lovingly reminds one of course expectations in one’s hour of need.  It benevolently smiles down at one from on high with vital information about office hours, contact information, and due dates.  It holds the answers to the questions that govern one’s existence like “do I ever catch a break?” and “what week can I plan to sleep in a little bit?”

As one proceeds into one’s higher education, one lives by the syllabus and dies by the syllabus.  A lifeline.  A sword.  A shield.  Everything one needed to know about class but was too afraid to ask.  The gatekeeper.  The keymaster.

Those stone tablets sent from on high brought down by a holy messenger anointed by the Glorious one.

But oh look how those tables have turned.

In writing a syllabus, we were inscribing the tablets.  We were creating destiny.  We were being deified.

behold the glory

As I printed the applications (including these diagrams of the future), I couldn’t help but be elated.  This was, perhaps, real.  I had, perhaps, arrived.

…or maybe I was just with the Scarecrow on the Yellow Brick Road.

So my printer needs a vacation in the Bahamas for its service this past week (five copies of an application plus all sundry materials… each application ran about 20 pages… my poor baby).  But… it’s done.  And I am so very excited.

Thing number two:  I received my first ever review copy of a scholarly book of which I shall be writing a review sometime in the next few months which will (gods willing) be published!  Words cannot express my jubilation.  No, seriously, every time I try I wind up devolving into some high-pitched girly squealing of exhilaration and jumping around a little bit.

I don’t want to say too much about the book, or about the journal (you know, in case things don’t work out or something), but I will say this: Shakespeare (that’s kind of a duh for me).  The book (or books, rather, it will be a double review) are about Shakespeare.  They’re both new, interesting, and engaging scholarship.  One is probably more in line with my specific research interests than the other, but I am open, willing, and ready, to love both of them.  There is space in my heart (and on my bookshelves) for anything that doesn’t grind my man Will into the dust (Oxfordians, you have no power here, be gone before someone drops a house on you).

Shakespeare is my Co-Pilot

Wowie Zowie, it’s been a hell of a week.

Today is Wednesday which means that I have officially been a PhD student for a week now.  I have attended all of my classes at least once (though two out of three of those classes didn’t really count because they were based upon syllabus discussion and random talking rather than any pre-assigned readings).  I have done a week’s worth of homework.  I have signed up for oral reports.  I have managed to keep on top of everything (as of just now, in fact, I am perched daintily atop my workload having completed all required reading and assignments for this week… though I have class in two hours which will mean that the reading mountain slides back down upon my head once more).

During the first class of my PhD career (the requisite course in research methodologies which occurred on Wednesday last – the professor wore a tweed suit and a bowtie by the by which means that my faith in the academy may be maintained), we went around the room introducing ourselves and our research interests.  This is thrilling in its own right because, for the first time in my academic career, I was sitting in a room full of (get this)

Sigh. Julie Taymor, I loved you once...

theatre people who weren’t my students!  Everyone is bombastic!  Everyone has a sense of humor!  Everyone can talk about Julie Taymor and her travesty of a Broadway show with some dexterity!  They understand my pain!

Due to sheer dumb luck, I was the last person to speak and introduce myself.  Programs like to have a broad range of research interests and so admit individuals who will open that demographic nicely.  As I understand it, my program’s resident Shakespearean just went ABD this year (having finished he coursework in the Spring) which leaves the mantle to me.  After a table full of Russian theatre, queer studies, vaudeville, and sundry other theatre interests which merited lengthy explanation, I opened my mouth.

“Hi, I’m Danielle, and I’m a Shakespearean.”

The professor grinned impishly, looked askance at me, and said; “You’re a Shakespeare scholar?  That’s like saying ‘I like books’!”.

We all laughed.  He wasn’t wrong.  I took a moment to feel slightly out of my element, and we plowed forward into discussing written assignments and term papers.

Panic erupted inside my head.  Should I have stayed with an English department?  Were my studies ill suited to a room full of dramatists?  Everyone knows that theatre as we know it is indebted to Shakespeare and, thereby, any theatre historian/scholar worth her salt will know something about the Bard.  Was there room for a Shakespearean at the table?  Was I doomed to be the bastion of information that everyone else knew anyway?  A redundancy?

Well there was no helping it now.  I may as well plow forward and feel out my research interests as I went.  After all, I’m a first year.  Nobody expects me to have a dissertation title yet (I hope).

Flash forward to the next day, my course in Adaptations.  We began to discuss assignments, areas of interest, readings, and the professor made very clear that this course was open-ended and designed to be tailored by the individual to his unique area of interest.  When we went around the room, we were each asked to name our favorite adaptation.

Adaptations?  Of Shakespeare?  I have to pick just one?  I was awash in a sea of possibilities.  Luxuriating in the ability to pull any number of things out of my hat; movies, musicals, other stage plays, comic books, video games…

As I glanced around the room and began to se beads of sweat form upon the faces of the

Guess my favorite Shakespeare Adaptation

resident Vaudeville scholar and our Wilde expert next to him, I couldn’t help but think that life was pretty darn good on my side of the room.  After all, I had Disney movies to talk about.  I could list Shakespeare adaptations for a week and still not mention them all.

Maybe this gig wasn’t so bad.

Flash even further forward to Monday of this week.  My History of Directing class.  The history of directing, the professor explained, was really a history of modernism.  Commence a discussion about modernism and the history of modern ideas (to which I had next to nothing to add but, ironically, was saved by my hard-won knowledge of Henry James thanks to a semester-long flagellation session last Spring).  Feelings of insecurity began to re-arise.  Was I not smart enough to do this?  Did I know enough random information about information to be a true scholar?  What was I even doing here?  I took copious notes, but even that couldn’t distract myself from the silence emanating from my corner of the table.

However then, oh then, the Professor backed up.  He backed up a lot.  He backed up to the inception of theatre as we know it.

And everyone knows when that happened.

That happened with Shakespeare.

He began asking questions to which I knew the answers.  He began talking about things that I had studied before.  He began to have a conversation which I could be part of!

And the most miraculous thing?  I was one of the few who could talk!  My colleagues remained mostly quiet, listening, as silent as I had been earlier.  Certainly there will be moments later in the semester when their special areas of interest will be discussed and I will return to being a post, but for now… I knew I could do this.

You see, Shakespeare is general.  Shakespeare is everywhere.  But far from being a weakness, that’s a strength.  I have something to say about everything because Shakespeare is a part of everything.

I’m important.  I matter.  And I can totally add to a classroom environment.  Oh and I’ll never be stuck for a paper topic because my research interest is applicable to well… everything ever.

Maybe it is like saying “I like books”, but when all else fails, nobody can say anything

always there. Even in a movie with a performance that's a spoof of another movie...

except that my Man Will is a vigilant angel; always waiting, always watching, always present.