News from the Front

Random news from the front:

  1. For the love of all things holy, please don’t wear jeans conferencing. I’ve seen people do this from graduate students to faculty members and every time I see an offender, my blood boils.

Wearing jeans at a conference communicates that you don’t take the conference

sunrise over Nashville Saturday morning

seriously enough to dress professionally for it. The old axiom “dress for the job you would like to have” definitely applies. Would you wear jeans to a job interview?

I was networking every moment of every day in Nashville (including a clandestine encounter with a Yale reference librarian on the shuttle from my hotel to the airport). There was never a moment when I wasn’t, in some way, on display. You never know who you will meet or where you will meet them, and especially at a large conference where most of the participants are staying in your hotel, you want to make sure you look your best for any possible encounter.

So say it with me: I will not wear jeans at a conference.

  1. My book fort is up to 47 and counting. Of these 47, there are only six that I have not yet cracked. This means that, in addition to keeping up with my class reading, I have read all or most of 41 additional books since the end of September. No wonder my brain is tired.
  1. I spent four hours in the archives at Harvard yesterday paging through so much material that the poor reference librarians were working overtime just to pull my requested obscure folders, boxes, and files. I cannot say how thankful I am for all the work that these people put in to making sure that I can do my work.

On that note, paging through two hundred year old documents will never get old. However, I live in fear of the day that one disintegrates in my hands through no fault of my own, or I accidentally turn the page a bit too rigorously and tear something that’s older than my country.

Though if I ever need to hide from some murderous gunman, I’m going to do it inside of an archive. They are seriously the safest places I’ve ever encountered and the murderer would have to breech so many levels of security and protocol to find me that I’m pretty sure he would just give up when faced with the infinite yards of red tape at the library privileges office. And even if he didn’t they’d strip him of everything except a pencil, notebook, and digital camera before they would buzz him through three different glass door anyway. And that would be just to get into the reading room! Since we already know that archive librarians are superheros, he’d pretty much have to contend with the most badass of superpowers before he found his way down to me crouching behind the stacks of bad Hamlet Quartos (mostly because those would be the things most worthy of being destroyed that would actually be available in the archive). Although now that I’ve given away my planned hiding spot, maybe I should instead take cover by some collection of modernist paraphernalia…

  1. For the purposes of one of my research projects, over the course of the last week, I’ve clocked more hours than I care to relate conflating the first folio Richard III with Colley Cibber’s 1700 adaptation. While I cry inside to really and truly see the deplorable reworking of my patron Bard’s great works that so many generations of theatre goers were subject too, I also think that this should earn me some kind of stamp on my nerd card. I take every chance I get to bring it up in conversation because, well, who does this stuff? “Oh, yes, I spent another two hours conflating Cibber’s Richard with Shakespeare’s first folio… how was your day at work?” “How’s your paperwork going? Cibber’s just dandy.” “What did you do today? Oh, me? Just understanding adaptations of great works of literature and how they affected generations upon generations of theatre goers and their comprehension of Shakespeare… no big deal.”

another thing that proves my geek cred is my insanely awesome pair of Shakespeare socks.

  1. Dramaturgy is a weird job. To give you a small sampling of questions which have crossed my desk this week: “Define ‘moated grange’.” “What does x line of text mean?” “What are some ritualistic gestures of the Catholic mass?” “Woops! This character was cast as a woman! How do we solve this problem textually?” To my geek cred, I find it fascinating to answer these questions; when I know the answer off the top of my head, it makes my little bard heart sing. When I have to dig for the answer, all the better; I’m learning something about Shakespeare that I didn’t know before!
  2. It’s snowing in Boston! And, as everyone knows, there’s no business like snow business!

No Reason to Revel….

Last night, I saw a traditional Boston Christmas staple; The Christmas Revels.

Unfortunately, “tradition” does not always equate “quality”.

So, I’ll admit to a personal bias.  Over-produced theatre always makes me skeptical.  When I pay over $30 for a ticket (especially when I’m not even paying for the best seats in the house), when I receive a program that has pages upon pages of benefactors listed, when I walk in to a BIG BEAUTIFUL GIGANTIC theatre, I expect a certain level of quality.  What I expect from a piece is in direct proportion to the amount of resources at the piece’s disposal.

Walking in to the Sanders Theatre at Harvard is an experience in itself.  The theatre (so claimeth Harvard) was designed as a lecture and commencement hall, but it feels more


like a converted cathedral.  It has lofty arched ceilings, beautiful stained glass, and pulpit seating.  Also, it’s a wooden theatre.

My love for wooden theatres is a love that cannot be paralleled.  Wood brings life to a theatre (and the acoustics which it provides are simply unmatched).  It feels homey, comfortable, a theatre that could give you a hug.

Sanders is a three-quarter round with only one fault that I can tell: the sightlines.  It’s designed in Elizabethan style which means that it has a pit, a mezzanine, and a balcony supported by columns which jet through the mezz.  Of course, the columns are an obvious sight obstruction, but the balcony itself is poorly designed.  It isn’t raked steeply enough to give anyone but those lucky enough to be sitting front and center full viewing of the stage.  Myself and my companion, seated mid-balcony, missed about a third of the performance due to failure to accommodate to these sightlines.

This, granted, is a problem that anyone could have.  And (to be fair) certain seats are marked as “partial viewing”, but our seats were not among those.  One would think that an organization which has performed out of a certain theatre for forty-one years would understand the space constraints of said theatre and make arrangements accordingly.

The performance itself seemed haphazard and lazy.  It was clumsily written (they write a new show every year), jamming together elements that they, as an institution, were required to include due to audience expectations in a graceless mish-mosh of near incomprehensibility.  The performers themselves lacked energy and what talent they had was eclipsed by an apparent need for more rehearsal.  The principle players lacked training to accomplish the demands of their roles (one, an unspeaking clown, often devolving into nonverbal diarrhea rather than anything funny or meaningful).  I doubt I saw a single performer smile for the entire performance.

The dance numbers were a travesty.  The performers had some grace but lacked synchronicity so they became an unpolished mess.

The sets were beautiful, but the costumes were odd.  Some were lovely, others included five-pocket khakis and sneakers (… in a period piece).

In all honesty, I felt like I was watching a big-budget high school production.  Except I was out $45 a seat.

There were a few interesting elements to the show.  Revelshas a sort of audience call and response sing-back tradition; there are several songs included in the show every year which the audience is expected to sing with the performers.  Lyrics are included in your program, and the house lights are brought up to full during these numbers so that one may read the lyrics.  Being in a theatre with 1,165 other audience members singing along with what was going on is a pretty fantastic experience.  In addition, the first act wraps up with a catchy song and a farandol which extends into the lobby.  Everyone rises and

Imagine this lobby filled with people dancing.... truly spectacular.

participates, filling the giant lobby packed full of dancing people.  It’s joyous and spontaneous (and truly wonderful to participate in).  If the rest of the show had been as delightful as that moment, I would be writing an extremely different review.

There is, of course, an easy solution to my giant frustration: lower ticket prices.  Yes, I would have paid $20 for a partial-view of the travesty that occurred onstage.  I might have even been lukewarmly entertained.  When I mentioned these things to my companion, he reminded me that the Revels was something of an institution and thereby could charge whatever they wanted because people would pay it.

Cue rage.  World-leveling rage.  The anger of a thousand torch-bearing French peasants.  So… just because people had been coming to this thing for however many years as part of their personal Christmas traditions meant that they would come next year.  Which meant the cardinal rule of theatre would be obeyed: butts would be put in seats.  Which meant that yes, they could charge whatever they wanted.



I ran a struggling no-budget theatre company.  I know what kind of dedication it takes to making something go with no money or resources.  Having money, backers, a captive audience, that’s a pretty cushy deal in the theatre (and a rare one at that).  How can you let that audience down?  How can you, even for a moment, allow anything to stand between you and a quality production?

…and you know the worst part?  This audience WILL COME BACK NEXT YEAR hoping that it will be better, or hopped up on enough drugs (apparently I missed the distribution of the happy-pills at the entry) to think that they witnessed a passable (or even good) production.

No.  After a show like this, this organization should be condemned to performing in church basements until they produce something worth their audience.  Successful theatre companies need to remember what it’s like to be starving.  That kind of pressure, that kind of intensity, feeds the creative spirit in a way that no amount of donors can.

If you went to dinner at a restaurant, even if it was your favorite restaurant, and the food

You can see the nifty set in the background and some of the more spectacular costumes

came out cold, the service was poor, and nobody was there to help you when you found a bug in your salad, would you go back?  Theatre should be the same way.

I urge you.  I plead with you.  Do not bring your patronage to this establishment (or any who fail to produce something palatable) until they have re-earned it.

…on a completely different note…. I’m off on vacation for two weeks.  I may check in (or I may take a much-needed break), but either way I hope you have a fantastic Holiday (whatever it may be that you celebrate) and a literary new year!  This opportunity also affords me to utilize the following societal hackneye…

“Danielle, you just finished your first semester of your PhD!  What are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to Disney World!”