Wednesday, October 26, 2016

To the Theater

I went to a play the other day, put on by a local amateur group, Shipwrecked!  An Entertainment.  (The play premiered in the US in 2007.)

It did some interesting things, choices the director made, and the theme of tale-telling.  But there were a couple of parts that were, well, problematic.  Or is it just me?

In short, a 19th century white European male goes off to see for adventure, ends up stranded on an island off Australia, where he eventually meets some Aboriginal people.  He saves the people, and then is basically offered his choice of brides, choosing a woman he met early on.  Later, homesick, he leaves his wife and family and returns to Europe where he writes and sells his story, to both acclaim and doubt.

The problematic, initially, for me, was the representation of the Aboriginal people.  They weren't played in blackface (thank dog) but were played in tattery looking clothes (think caveman pictures from the 50s more than not) and did more grunting than not.  Like those old caveman pictures, they were played stooped, mostly.  The crowd seemed to find the effect comic.

Now, I get that by the end the audience is supposed to question his tale, to wonder if he's ever seen Aboriginal people, or had these adventures.  But while the Aboriginal people are on stage, there was nothing to suggest that the performance was thinking about what it means to present Aboriginal people in this sort of way.

The lesser problematic part was during the choosing a wife scene, where one of the potential brides was played in broad drag.  Again, the audience laughed.

But, I wonder, how would it feel to sit with my African American or Native American students to see this play?  How would it feel to sit with a transgender student to see this play?

I don't think it would feel comfortable.  The fact is, of course, most African American or Native American students have seen far worse, experienced far worse.  But this would be like yet another paper cut in the skin of life.  I wouldn't want to participate in giving that paper cut.

To put it another way, it's not a good sign that I was grateful, ever so grateful that at least they weren't in blackface.

As tends to be the case here, the theater audience was very white.  So as the play was presenting the Aboriginal people, it felt like a bunch of white people secretly (or maybe not secretly, but imagining themselves as the only possible audience) enjoying the racism of the representation.

I haven't read the play, so maybe this performance wasn't at all what the text suggests, or not at all like the play that premiered in New York.

I did read a couple reviews (including in The New York Times), and they didn't seem to notice race issues.  But then, theater often seems like a bastion of white privilege, with white folks just not noticing racism because they imagine they're in an all white space.

Has anyone else seen the play?  Thoughts?

I saw a play last year by a Nigerian-American playwright, set in Africa, with all African characters, but played by white folks (in this Midwestern area), and it didn't feel racist in this way.  It felt like the African characters were represented with respect in a way that just didn't come across in Shipwrecked.  I think that other play was played as a sort of timeless story, a story set in a culture, but a story that they expected to speak to all humanity and represent all humanity, in the way that we imagine Shakespeare speaks to all humanity, if you know what I mean.

Is there a way this play can be performed that doesn't feel racist?

(I was thinking, if they played the European guy in shipwreck-ish clothing, and the Aboriginal characters in, say, modern business attire, could you get at the sense that the main character's storytelling is problematic?)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Agincourt, Again

It's St. Crispin's Day!

That's the day when we remember that we don't remember well, but are easily manipulated by patriotic rhetoric.  Or, at least, it we should remember that we don't remember.

In Shakespeare's Henry V, the play's most memorable (at least to me) passage comes in Henry's speech before the battle of Agincourt. 

I seem to post about St. Crispin's Day every few years.

In 2007.

On Veteran's Day, 11 November 2005.  (Where I posted the speech.)

And last year, the 600th anniversary, 2015.  (Where I posted even more of the speech.)


I got an email from a colleague today, a colleague who sometimes gets really petty.  And this is one of those times.  The problem is, when she gets petty, other people have to rein her in, and then she gets really mad.  Unfortunately, right now, I'm the one with the reins.  (But, if the pettiness persists, other folks will help.  Still, she'll be most mad at me.)

Last week, I made the mistake of asking another colleague (who's in a position where they're supposed to answer these sorts of questions) a question in the department office, and then since I didn't understand the shorthand of her answer, a followup question.  And she blew up at me and started ranting at me for being so so rude.  So I apologized, said I hadn't meant to be rude, but had just not understood.  And she blew up at me more.  So, again, I apologized, and said I hadn't meant to be rude, and she blew up at me more, and then she turned and walked into her office. 

That was really unpleasant.  Let's just say, I'm averse to conflict.  If the zombie apocalypse comes, you don't want me on your side.  If you need a latrine dug, then you may want my help.  If you need someone to visit while you're in the hospital, then you may want me to.  But if it comes to a verbal fight, in a hallway or anywhere, then no, I'm crap at that.

If I could have done it financially, I would have turned in my letter of resignation that day.  I still would, if I could do it financially.  (I did discuss it with the chair.  Meh.  Neither good nor bad.  This is one of the favored folks of the chair.  But if she ever verbally attacks me again, I'll file an official complaint, I guess.)

I used to feel like, mostly, the folks in my department treated each other decently, and that somehow made the nastiness of the state government, the nastiness of state and local politics, the nastiness of administrative desperation... survivable. 

And now, I don't feel that.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Shakespeare Writes a New Play!

Or not.

The Guardian has an article this morning that talks about the new edition of The New Oxford Shakespeare (ed. Gary Taylor), which credits Marlowe with collaborating on the Henry VI plays and names Shakespeare as the author of Arden of Faversham.

I'm not much into authorship issues.  I think it's pretty clear to me that theater is wildly collaborative, but I wouldn't have thought Marlowe would write with Shakespeare at that point in their careers, when Marlowe was already popular, and Shakespeare was a beginner. 

As to Arden, which is a blast of a play to teach, I'm reminded of Don Foster's work claiming that "Elegy" as Shakespeare's based on computer analysis, and then deciding later that it wasn't.  Of course, everyone would love to find another work by Shakespeare. 

I don't think it's the first time Shakespeare's been suggested as the author of Arden.  The question is, how does it change things?

For folks who use The New Oxford to teach (and I don't think Shakespeare anthologies sell much outside of teaching requirements), then it will make it easy to include Arden in a Shakespeare course.  I don't know if that will happen much, though.  I think it's easy to choose, say, Titus as one of the tragedies to teach in a survey, especially if you're going to teach Hamlet later, or Othello, because it brings forward revenge tragedy as a genre and race, both of which make for fruitful discussion.  And there's lots to talk about re gender, violence, masculinities, social order, etc.  But I don't think I'd choose Arden to do the same work in a class.  I'm sure some folks will choose it, and make it work well for them.

If Oxford puts out a new edition of Arden as Shakespeare, that's interesting.  (It's already available for a reasonable price in their World's Classics series, along with A Woman Killed with Kindness and Other Domestic Plays.  And there's the Methuen edition, which is reasonably priced and useful.)

Other than that, how do these findings change what we write or teach about Shakespeare?  How do they change what we see on stage?

Maybe Arden will get some more stage time, which is good, because I think it would work really well on stage (I've never seen it).

I doubt it changes much for the Henry VI plays; they'll still get taught in Shakespeare courses, and in drama courses, and maybe they'll get added to the occasional Marlowe course.

Friday, October 21, 2016

On-Line Catalog

I got an email from a colleague today, asking about one of the requirements for an interdisciplinary program (for which I chair a committee, so it made sense).  I looked at my print out of the requirements, and then I looked at last year's catalog.

And then I answered with some confidence, both that this year's catalog and last year's catalog agreed about the requirement.

And then I got to thinking: we've gone from printed catalogs to printed and on-line catalogs, and now to only an on-line catalog.  I have a partial shelf of old catalogs, which have been useful at times because here, at least, catalogs work as a sort of contract.  Students enter under a "catalog year" and have to fulfill the requirements outlined in the catalog for their catalog year.  If we changed the requirements, they don't have to do new requirements, even if they changed their major after a new catalog.  (Students always had an option to move to a newer catalog year, which makes more sense lately because we've been reducing requirements in a lot of ways in an effort to raise our four and six year graduation rates.)

So, as an advisor, it was helpful to keep several years of printed catalogs on hand to be able to check requirement changes and such. 

So how are we going to figure out if, say, a student comes in under the 2016-17 catalog, and then we change a major requirement in 2017 at some point.  We won't have back catalogs to check (nor will students), and requirements can now change at any time during the year (rather than just once a year when the catalog went to print).  That gives the university lots of flexibility, but seems like it has potential to cause advising nightmares.

The nightmares will probably be minimized if we keep going on our current trajectory or reducing requirements, of course, since it will always be "advantageous" for a student to move to a new catalog.

Has anyone out there been using only on-line catalogs for a while now?  (It makes a lot of sense in many ways, of course.)  How does your school track changes in programs so they're visible to students, faculty, and anyone else?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Trusting the Process

In my writing class today, students had an optional journal due, and about half the students turned one in.

It was also revision day, a day for taking the responses from peer editors and working on revising papers.  We talked about revision a bit, talked about writing mini-conclusions for paragraphs, using transitions not at the end of paragraphs, but at the beginning of paragraphs, and also about writing conclusions.  The journal was, in one sense, a possible rough draft of a conclusion, though they didn't necessarily realize it until we were talking about writing conclusions and one student asked if they could basically use their journal.  Yes, I said, that's what it's for.  And several of them laughed.

And once again, I told them that the journals for class should help them with assignments in some way or other.  Pretty much all the journal assignments feed in, give them practice, or have some building relationship to the larger writing assignment. 

I think some of them get it.  Tomorrow, I'm going to talk to them about learning to trust the process of education. 

That trust, it's really difficult.  It's difficult as an instructor to earn the trust, and probably more difficult to give it to an instructor.  But if you can build that trust at least somewhat, build a sense that what the instructor is asking the student to do will build skills, is do-able with work, and will contribute to their overall learning, then (I think?  I hope?) students will feel like there's more of a partnership, more mentoring rather than judging.

And I'm back to violin lessons again.  My teacher suggests I try X.  And because I've consciously decided that I trust her teaching, I try X.  And by golly, X is hard.  But when I get a bit of a handle on X, then it helps me do Y, something more obviously musical, perhaps.

X this week is a D-minor scale.  It's a bit hard.  But I trust that it will help me when I start playing the D-minor part of the next Suzuki piece.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

That Went Fast

The past week just blew by.

I got and graded a big stack of papers, and some small stacks (journals, rewrites).

I've been to endless meetings (well, it feels like they're endless, even if they're good meetings).  And student conferences; I've met with every student in my writing class at least once since 8am on Thursday.

I spent most of the weekend in grading jail.  Except I went to a concert that my violin teacher was playing in.  Way good!

Today, I don't teach, so I slept in, and am about to practice, and then start to grade a big stack of papers.  Then, around noon, I'll go to campus for a meeting and then conferences with students.

The stack of papers I turned back in my Shakespeare class have led to some worried students wanting conferences.  And my writing students are working on a paper which they'll do peer revision work on tomorrow in class.  This is a hard assignment, and I think most of them are on track (since I've talked to them all in conference, I have a pretty good idea where they were).  But several want more feedback before peer revision.

Violin is especially fun right now.  I'm about to work on "The Two Grenadiers," a song by Schumann in D-minor and D-major.  So I'm working on the D-minor scale, and since you can shift a string and do basically the same thing in a different key, the G-minor scale.  I find scales weirdly satisfying, I think because I can practice them and achieve a basic level of doing them fairly quickly.  (That doesn't happen with most pieces I'm learning.)

I seem to have an especially heavy committee load right now, and can I say, when you work with someone on a committee, you get a different sense of them.  I'm on one committee with an administrator, and while I respected her before, my respect has redoubled.  She's fantastic at facilitating discussion and progress. 

And I'm on a committee with a young faculty colleague, and I'm astounded by how set in stone she thinks things must be.  For example, we came up with issue X, and she said that she's heard that at some schools, issues X is always handled in Y way.  And more experienced committee members said, yes, that's true at some schools, but we don't, because handling issue X in Y way may mislead people and thus be hurtful.  And she insisted that at some schools, issue X is handled in Y way, and she wanted to make sure we knew that.  And once again, other folks said, yes, we know, but we don't because doing that is problematic.  She came back to the Y practice two or three more times, as if she couldn't quite believe that we'd rejected Y practice for reasons we believe are good.

And it was like that for several issues.  Color me unimpressed.

Yesterday, I went to a recital by a university string student my teacher teaches.   (If you want to learn an instrument, one helpful thing is to pay attention to other people who play.  At the least, you get a bit more familiar with some repertoire.)  The student did a really good job.  Really good. 

And once again, I was so impressed by how poised our music students are, at least the ones who give recitals.  (I'm sure there are some music students who aren't so good, etc.)  But the ones at this recital, the pianist, a chamber group, they're so good at looking confident and comfortable on stage.  It's not that they don't make mistakes, but they're poised. 

And watching the chamber group, it's so cool to see how closely they attend to each other, looking, listening.  Way cool!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Last Hurrah

I went camping up at a State Park this past weekend, probably the last hurrah of the season.

So, naturally, I took some pictures.  It was (according to WU) 26F at night, and boy is that cold.  But the morning was totally worth it!

Sunday, October 09, 2016


I'm reading job applications, and got one from someone who did their degree at a for-profit, on-line outfit.  Everything about the application makes me feel like this person got ripped off and doesn't really realize it.

I feel sort of sickened.  We're searching for a, let's say, Mathematical Forester, and this person is getting a degree in Underwater Basketweaving.  But somehow they think they're a good applicant for our job.

It's not like I can sit down with them and tell them they got ripped off.  And if I could, what good would it do them at this point?  None that I can think of.

Yeah, so I'm feeling a bit sick at this point.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Stick Figure Lit - What's the Poem Today?

I taught a poem today, and now I did some art.  The poem seemed fitting for today.