Sing, O Muse, of a new semester (quarter, session, etc.)…

Well, lovely lurkers, it’s mid-January, and if you’ve been lurking here for awhile, you know what that means: It’s:

/cue Monty Python theme music as the scruffy bearded man runs away/

The Musings Upon A New Semester! And etc. Because every freaking school at which I teach is on a different schedule. Let alone different pay dates….

Front Range has decided they don’t have any classes for me this semester. Which is troubling, as that’s around $800/mo that I am not getting this semester (that means now through May, kids). So. Sigh. I did reach out to their online division, which didn’t help in the short term, but hopefully shall in the long.

At Metro, I’m teaching two online courses: one is the Staging Cultures class you’ve heard me talk about before; the other is (also online) called Theatre History and Criticism II. What makes it different than I, you might ask? No idea–I’ve never taught either before. Luckily I have an esteemed colleague’s version of it to pirate, er, adapt into my own structure and voice. Metro (and FRCC, when I do teach for them) is on the semester system, which means their classes run from next week through early May.

DU is having me teach their Capstone seminar online, which is the course that masters degree students take when they’re working on their culminating projects for their advanced degree in writing. Lots of diverse topics and creative projects this quarter. Yep, quarter. Which means ten weeks (they started last week).

Regis always has me do directed study courses, which means: online, one-on-one with grad students pursuing their masters in writing, and nearly all designed by me. This session (8 weeks there) I have two YA lit/Writing students, and one YA Poetry student.

Professional stuff? I have returned to Boulder Burlesque to choreograph and perform in their upcoming Valentine’s Day themed show, and am still in Bronze Fox Burlesque, but after their calendar debacle, I don’t know what’s up with them. Prolly a 4/20 show. But who knows, indeed…

Friend and fellow dancer Brandy and I are co-creating a vaudeville style variety show called Blue Dime Cabaret, about which I shall keep you informed, as it continues to coalesce with all the acts we’re trying to recruit.

Finally, I’m in charge of choreographing and directing the violence and intimacy scenes in another Local Theatre Company show called The Wisdom of Everything.

Whew! That added to the books I am beginning to write, looks like I’m a busy (and woefully underpaid) little bee. Send beer money…..

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The More You Holmes

From: ep. 3.1

Character name: Sebastian Moran

Reference: In the original canon, Sebastian Moran is a colonel, not a peer of the realm, but he shares the distinction in this episode (very nearly named after the original story: “Empty House” = “Empty Hearse”) of being the central villain of the first story after Holmes’ return from his supposedly fatal end at the Reichenbach Fall.

Moran is one of several suspected terrorists Sherlock calls his “rats,” so when we find a bomb set up in a tunnel called Sumatra, we also of course hear the echo of a never-penned, only-mentioned adventure called the “Giant Rat of Sumatra.”

Problematic Badass Female Tropes

I mentioned to the SO that I had come up with seven stereotypes/damaging/problematic tropes of the Female Badass, that I was interested in writing an article about. Or a series of articles. I read my basic descriptions of all 7 to him, and he purred, “Um, this is a book, darling; you realize that, right?”

Dammit.

Well, this coming semester I will have quite a bit of time on my hands, and not much money to speak of, so. All righty then. It’s a book. It will be a book, that is.

Here’s a basic rundown of the seven tropes I will be analyzing. Some of them are already-established from feminist scholars before me, others I have invented (as far as I can tell; at least the terminology for them). Most have sub-tropes, which I’ll also briefly describe here. Another note: I am not equipped to discuss any non-binary nor POC issues. There’s a lot more here to write about, that I highly recommend those of you who can, should.

And away we go……

1) The Marion Effect

I named this trope off two Marions from cinema: Maid Marion in the delightfully awful Robin Hood, Prince Of Thieves; and Indy’s gal-pal in Raiders Of the Lost Ark. Both Marions begin as total unquestionable badasses (the former kicking Robin Hood’s ass, the latter drinking a dude under a table and still saving the artifact), and both switch to simpering weaklings as soon as it’s a plot point to have them become Damsels in Distress. In other words, they’re completely awesome until the male hero shows up and needs a love interest to rescue.

(Sub-trope: Someday My Prince Will Come) This can happen to any Marion Effect character but it’s mostly seen in the Disney Robin Hood’s Maid Marian. She’s even got a wanted poster of her remote crush up in her closet like a high schooler with a bad boy band poster. Either way, she does nothing to get what she wants, even if she can. Disney’s Little Mermaid is like a combination of both Marion Effects.

2) Wonder Woman

This trope is summed up with one question: does the sexiness of the ass preclude the badness of the ass? James Cameron has recently averred that a female character can’t (or shouldn’t) be both tough and sexy, but regular people of all genders seem to disagree with him. So then the problematic bits come twofold with this trope: either the strong, tough woman is depicted as manly and/or not hot, or sexiness is shoehorned onto a tough character, because she’s female.

3) Down the Rabbit Hole

It’s fun to watch women get tortured!

(Sub-trope: Slasher Fodder) Especially when we don’t have to invest in her as a fully developed character!

4) The Meaning Of (His) Life

The only function of this otherwise intelligent, quirky, and otherwise interesting character is to change the male hero’s perspective, life, etc.

(Sub-trope: Manic Pixie Dream Girl) This is a well discussed trope already: basically, the MPDG is thoroughly disposable once she has been of use to the male protagonist. This sketch sums it up: Underwritten Female Characters

(Sub-trope: The Arwen Syndrome) This sub-trope has been around for a long, long, time: since the troubadours of old. Heck, since the ancient Greeks, let’s be honest. The Arwen Syndrome refers to how Arwen was written in Tolkien’s original books. Or, rather, not written. She’s an ethereal, not-really-there figure that exists purely to keep Aragorn’s gumption up, and is basically given to him as a reward by Elrond and Galadriel for a job well done. The longest passage we have written about her is a physical description.

5) Mother Knows Best, But Hero Knows Better

I’m not sure I can think of a more badass act than giving birth. Oh wait, yes I can: it’s the act of parenting itself. Toughest thing anyone can do. But even the strongest and most badass of mothers are always second-string when it comes to the male hero.

(Sub-trope: All Women Are Maternal) This is the related trope that any woman, no matter how tough or strong she is, no matter what difference she makes or what she survives through, is simply not a real woman unless she’s a mother. The ends of Kill Bill and Aliens are examples of this.

6) One of the Guys

Story of my life, actually. But. This is the female character that isn’t “really female” because she’s pals, not lovers, with the male hero. Or she’s a part of the mostly male gang (think Anybodys in West Side Story). Or she joins the military and subsequently either is treated or in disguise as, one of the guys (G.I. Jane and Mulan are this, as are legendary pirates irl Anne Bonny and Mary Reade).

(Sub-trope: Banter Becomes True Love) Any romantic comedy from the 1980s has this in spades. Win the girl. If she, too, is intelligent, it’ll just take more persistence & work. Remember Moonlighting? The main problematic issue about the BBTL trope (besides idealizing stalking) is that the female is rendered completely uninteresting once she’s finally a love interest.

7) I’m Only Here For My Vagina

The only reason the character exists, and the only thing she’s good at or for, is sex. She can be a bad guy (Onatopp from Goldeneye) good guy love interest (insert your favorite here, pun intended), or a variety of Arwen Syndrome, but she’s just about the sex.

(Sub-trope: Witchy Woman) Circe is the first one of these who comes to mind; the female whose magic superpower is her vagina.

(Sub-trope: Bond Girl) Bond Girls can be any number of things, from villain to brief encounter to The One Who Changed Bond’s Life, but one thing they all are: they are all about sex with Bond. Once that’s accomplished, they go away.

Tell me your thoughts about these tropes and my brief onceovers of them in the comments, and I’ll post updates as I write.

Johnny Fox Tribute

“Good evening; my name is Johnny Fox,” he’d always begin.

“But that’s just my stage name,” he’d add to the huge crowd thronging the Pearl Street Mall rock park, blocking the walkways past. “My real name is: John Fox.”

Snarky humor, deep honoring of old-school freakshow and vaudeville arts, and sword swallowing. That’s what made Johnny Fox one of the best performers I had (and still have) ever witnessed. He never knew this, but I idolized him.

When I was a teenager, I was a storyteller, and as such, fancied myself in the realm of the court jester, the venerable wit of renaissance time. Magic, juggling, and acrobatics were three aspects of my cultivation of this type of performance I never did get very good at, to my chagrin. I nearly went to Clown College after high school, but I got a freshman-year scholarship and so went to regular college instead (but I did get a theatre degree).

Point is: Johnny Fox was doing everything I admired about performing, everything I wanted to be, and he soon became my unwitting mentor, as I watched his Pearl Street act uncountable times, absorbing it like the adoring sponge I was, till I had every bit of his impeccable timing and structure and patter memorized, word for pause.

He’d do what I call gross-out magic: the spikes up the nose; needles through the tongue; razor blades in the eyes; and of course the classic: swallowing razor blades and a length of string, making expressions of gastric distress, till he’d slowly, elegantly, pull out the blades, tied neatly onto the string in sequence like Christmas lights.

But he’d do old school legerdemain type tricks as well: cards and coins and pickpocketing audience members. He had an awe-inspiring pair of hands.

But what set him apart from the crowd of excellent magicians I knew and saw regularly around that place and time, was the freakshow skill that made him famous: sword swallowing.

He’d start small, building the drama of the finale, driving his blades into a log, just to show they weren’t retractable (and of course the joke trick where he did indeed use a retractable knife). The finale consisted of Fox inserting a full length blade down his throat, up to the crossguard. Then he’d bow, sword still inside him, till his rotating bow took him to the carefully selected audience member, who got to hold the hilt as he withdrew.

(I never once got selected to be that hallowed part, though I was fascinated to observe him shaking the hands of several audience members, till he found the exact right kind of grip to trust with this dangerous task. Was it all for show? Maybe. I didn’t care.)

Johnny Fox looked like a gypsy, and dressed like one, too, when onstage. Beyond finding his appearance and talent attractive as a young theatrical teen naturally would, even more than that: I wanted to be him when I grew up. My love of (and expertise in) swords, my work in aerial and burlesque dancing all have their seeds right there in Johnny Fox.

Beyond Boulder, Fox was a performer on TV, several renaissance faires, and curated a museum in New York called the Freakatorium. A proponent of old-fashioned dark-side entertainment, he did much to spread it all over the country. I am thankful that his impact on me was able to be so strong, that I was able to witness his profound talent firsthand, and learn from him as an idol and a mentor, even if we never once met. (Actually I do have an embarrassing story about a joke I finally got the guts to tell him after one of his shows. Not writing about that here—ask me about it sometime.)

Liver cancer took Johnny Fox too soon, just this past Sunday. He was only 64. What other amazing acts, feats of grosseur, or ascerbic and charming wit would he have regaled us all with, had he lived even ten years longer?

We will never know, but to those of us honored to have witnessed his incredible work firsthand, he will be immortal.

RIP, Johnny Fox. May you be grossing out the angels and swallowing cherubic swords to their delight hereafter.

Mini-Essay Winner

At long last, here’s the Fall 2017 Mini-Essay winner. Good job, Aaron, and thanks to all my Comp I and II students over at FRCC for a stellar Fall semester.


Going Green

by Aaron Lange

Last week, I was at a dead stop in grid lock traffic with no hope of making it to work on time. As I gazed to the side of the road, I spotted a young man on a bicycle. He was powering along the bike path that parallels the highway. I noticed he had quite an impressive physique, and then there was the smile on his face. It seemed as though he was passing all of the cars on the highway with ease. It turns out that there are many personal benefits to biking to work; some of the most impactful being increased health, saving money, and sheer happiness.

I have been a runner for many years, and my body constantly reminds me so. The benefits of running have always outweighed the pain and soreness of pushing my body’s limits. However, cycling produces much of the same fat demolishing benefits as jogging, but with significantly less adverse effects on the knees. Simultaneously, it also helps develop strength in the body’s muscular system, which includes the heart. (“10 Reasons”).

Financially, it is quite the endeavor for Americans to run and maintain even the simplest of automobiles. Gas, oil changes, insurance, and the occasional repair costs on average $9,000 per year. That is a lot of money to spend in order to have a vehicle for getting to work in a reliable and timely fashion (“10 Reasons”). The worst part is that most people don’t even enjoy driving to work.

I can’t remember the last time I drove down the highway without someone cutting me off. The rush of adrenaline that pulses through the body in such instances is a form of the fight or flight response. It is not a healthy occurrence to encounter on a daily basis. Fortunately, the occasional bike commute has shown to be quite therapeutic. The exercise, and wind through the hair, when done consistently can greatly decrease amounts stress, symptoms of depression, and reduce anxiety. Just getting your heart rate up in combination with the outdoors “has been proven to boost self-confidence and improve overall mood” as well (“10 Reasons”).

It sounds too good to be true. Enjoying endless health, emotional, and fiscal benefits just by substituting a simple mode of transportation. While those extra 20 minutes of sleep and a warm car on chilly mornings are a hard thing to leave in the past, the long lasting benefits of getting over those creature comforts are immensely more advantageous. I am sure that there are many other comfort zones that will have to be explored, but I can guarantee that even the occasional bike ride into the office will be sure to liven up the work day.

—————

Work Cited

“The Top 10 Reasons Everyone Should Bike to Work.” Momentum Mag, 1 Mar. 2017, momentummag.com/top-10-reasons-you-should-bike-to-work/.

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Collom Collaboration, Continued

Culling more old journals, lovely lurkers, and I came across this Q&A poem and this acrostic that Jack Collom and I wrote together back in April 2001, when I had the great honor to be his apprentice/assistant for teaching poetry to my Mom’s 3/4th grade class. This was not done in class, but at a coffee shop after one of our sessions together. Again, it’s long enough ago that other than a phrase here and there, I don’t remember which lines were mine, which his.

——–

Q: One lump or two?

A: Just one big one’ll about cover it

Q: Who’s the boss?

A: That guy with the ears.

Q: Or is he?

A: Well, he just flapped outta here. Now what?

Q: Yeah, now what?

A: Okay, okay, um… why don’t we get the committee on that?

Q: Did that count as a question?

A: Just as sure as it rains little tin goslings.

Q: Okay, let’s get serious. Where are we?

A: With the pelicans, of course. An interplanetary time vortex. But the real question is,

Q: How do we get out of here?

A: Play like a dead fish and let Pelican Transport take over — we’ll all get lumped in together.

———

T ry to be kind to me, dear, or I’ll shoot you with my cold .41–

W hoa, man, can you stop for a minute? If you shoot me my life is done.

O h shit, but a new song starts in three minutes.

T oo bad, Dude Ranch, you knew the job was dangerous.

(R umble rumble)… I’m trying to start up my Rolls Royce SUV.

A w crap, not you too! Here, let me get out the

C rank: (rrrrrr… phut phut…) Whoosh! Hey, what’s that big bump in the road,

K ilimanjaro? Holy Hornets! It can’t be! Turn left, no, right, no…

(S mash crash tinkle) — This is no time or place for a tinkle. Now look what you’ve done…

Hero’s Journey/Villain’s Journey: II

Hero’s Journey/Villain’s Journey:

 

Part II

Read Part I for a discussion of the concept of the Monomyth and the Hero’s Journey.

A DU grad student of mine about ten years ago (back when they let me create classes with interesting and useful topics) came up with a system for a Villain’s Journey. His idea came about from the many readings in class, and he mused that villains also must go through a Journey, but the steps have got to be different than the path a hero takes. Here’s the Villain’s Journey this student concocted, in its 8 stages parallel to the Hero’s Journey:

8-Step Villain’s Journey (by Jon Thumim):

1. moral conflict

Nobody ever sets out to become a villain. Even villains like Iago, who seem to enjoy their role of Bad Guy, still make choices, moral choices, based on an Objective (for more on objective, tactics, and obstacles, revisit my 3 Rules for Protagonists). The villain is faced with a moral conflict, and must act on it to embark on their journey.

2. Precipice

Much like the hero’s Threshold, the Precipice is the boundary between the mundane everyday regular life, and the Realm within which the villain will become a villain. Once they fall over that precipice, there’s no turning back.

3. Sith Trials

These are the tests and challenges the villain must move through in order to achieve their objective. These trials are often more torturous and self-destructive than the Jedi trials, and the villain, unlike the hero, usually has no help in their endeavors.

4. The Void

This is where the villain faces total annihilation. Sometimes the Conflict with the Hero stage happens before this one, causing the obliteration; but sometimes it can be as simple as our villain getting a glimpse into the nothingness, which is (like the hero’s abyss) the biggest challenge for the villain, the most difficult trial and one it’s not certain they’ll survive. In fact, as we’ll see in stage 7, they probably won’t.

5. Conflict w/hero

The villain’s comeuppance and time to shine as the villain they are comes in this stage, where they must face off against their own Boss Monster, the hero. Very rarely does the villain win this contest.

6. Forswear mentor

The-Phantom-Menace-Poster-1-05032015

Whatever you think of Episode I, this image from its poster has always struck me. It’s…illustrative. It’s actually much more compelling than the actual story the movie gave us.

The life of the villain is a solitary one, and where the hero will Atone with the Father, the villain will do no such thing, rejecting and forswearing any teachings, gifts, or help their magical guide or mentor may have supplied till now (or they’ll take the money and run, thank you very much). They’ve grown villainously beyond the fairy godperson and will face their world alone.

7. Dismemberment

Where the hero underwent a Transformation, becoming more themselves than ever before as they became the hero, the villain’s transformation is much more destructive. The villain isn’t transformed into themselves, but is instead annihilated, ripped apart, until there are only pieces left. In contemporary stories, this tends to be a metaphorical dismemberment, but in ancient folk and fairy tales, it’s literal.

8. Resurrection

The villain is obliterated, annihilated, by their journey, and when resurrected, they’re never the same. Often in old stories and in fantasy tales, the villain is now no longer a healthy human being, but an unnatural abomination, often actually undead. Voldemort and his horcruxes are a vivid example of this.

What do you think of this dark, Mirror-Mirror version of the Monomyth? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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Hero’s Journey / Villain’s Journey: I

Hero’s Journey/Villain’s Journey :

 

Part I

When I was very young and first learned about story formulae, it distressed me, as I was worried very much about originality at the time. But once I grew into my writership and my voice and became more and more well read, I realized that formulae like Campbell’s Hero’s Journey function as skeletons, a strong (and yes, necessarily same) structure that a storyteller can then hang original flesh and clothing on top of. See Kirby Ferguson’s Everything Is A Remix episode wherein he talks about the materials George Lucas used to build the bird’s nest that is Star Wars, and you’ll have a new appreciation for the recycled, and a new view of what it means to be “original.”

The Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell, in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, laid out the basic structure for all story, something he called the Monomyth. The original Journey consists of 17 different phases or stages the hero goes through, from the Call to the Apotheosis to the Magical Flight, and so on. Many writers have shortened this formula down to a more manageable three stages: The Call, Road Of Trials, and Return. Personally, I prefer an 8-stage version a teacher concocted from the original 17, in that with the 8 stages, we get the detail of the Journey more specifically than the very simplified 3-step version, but it is much easier to swallow (and more versatile) than the full 17. And I have taught my writing students this 8-stage version in my own Jenn way for many years (part Campbell’s words, part pop culture/my own. And ain’t that just so postmodern of me?).

(Only thing better is my 3 Rules for Protagonists, based on Stanislavsky’s acting “Method.” And it is better. But this piece of writing is specifically about the hero’s and villain’s Journey, so I digress…)

Anyway. This is my take:

8-step version Hero’s Journey

1. call to adventure

Our hero (oh, and, side note: I eschew use of the word “heroine,” as it is merely the diminutive form of the noun. I don’t use the word “actress” for the same reason. The feminine should not be diminutive. A person is a hero or an actor, no matter what gender they express) gets whisked away on the adventure. The snug norm of regular life is disrupted, and it’s time to embark upon the unknown. Very often, the hero resists the Call (or even outright refuses it), but no matter if they do, they end up running after those dwarves without a pocket-handkerchief, or taking the red pill, or falling down the rabbit hole regardless.

2. Threshold

This is the gateway to the Magical Realm. In old stories (and often In new fantasies), this is where the hero enters the Forest. Usually there’s some kind of terrifying guardian at this gate, and the hero must use their own bravery and wit (and often, help and/or gifts from a wise mentor or fairy godperson) in order to get through. The doorway to nirvana is guarded by two fearsome swordsmen, for example, and the way back to the Garden of Eden is flanked by terrible (also sword-wielding) seraphim. But crossing the threshold is only the first challenge for the hero…

3. Jedi trials

Once the hero is in the Other Realm, away from the normal world as we know it, they’re immediately in mortal, life-changing danger. They must undergo a series of challenges in order to move on, each one tougher and more dangerous than the one before. And each test makes the hero stronger, and teaches them more. This stage is the one where our hero may meet other characters like the Temptress/Goddess and the Trickster, and may or may not lose their magical guide here. The first Star Wars movie follows this precisely, as once Luke crosses through the threshold (Mos Eisely spaceport; you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy), he meets Leia, Han, Chewie, and loses Obi-Wan. Sorry, did you need a spoiler alert?

4. Abyss

This is the worst, darkest, direst of the Jedi Trials. This is the most difficult test the hero goes through, the one where they almost give up, or nearly perish. If our hero is in a video game, this is where they must fight the Boss Monster, and it’s uncertain whether or not they’ll succeed.

lastcrusadegrail

“You chose…wisely.”

5. A-ha moment

This is the moment when the hero puts their hands on the Holy Grail. When they attain their objective, or realize it’s not attainable. Indiana Jones literally did this in the third movie of that trilogy (yes, the Indiana Jones franchise is only a trilogy lalalalala I can’t hear you what are you saying about a crystal skull)….

6. Transformation

Sometimes this happens right with the a-ha moment, or the a-ha moment happens because of this. This stage is where the hero changes irrevocably—no longer are they the hapless teenager, scared little girl, or impatient farmboy. That abyss was the straw that broke the hero’s back and transformed them into an actual hero.

7. Atonement w/father

Often if the hero is female, this stage is an atonement with the mother figure instead, but just as often it’s a father figure regardless of heroic gender. Even more usually, the father figure is the highest god, The Father, as it were. The Norse and Greek myths were all about this stage, though usually the atonement comes in the form of punishment in those tales.

8. Return w/boon

The hero must return with all the wisdom and superpowers and whatever else they’ve gained along their journey, to bring the boon of their new heroship to benefit the community. This return is often where you’ll find the stage called Magical Flight, where the hero continues to have help in order to cross back over the threshold into the regular world. Now the hero is what Campbell called Master of Two Worlds, able to exist both in the enchanted realm and the world of workaday reality.

 

Stay tuned for Part II, where I will introduce and discuss the concept of the Villain’s Journey.

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The Rape Of the Sabine Women

This is a show that’s in the best of what I would call postmodernism. It’s timely, and also basic. It hits every possible emotion button. And this is the last weekend you can see it.

When Christy Montour-Larson asks me to join her crew, I always say yes. This woman is probably the best director in the whole freaking state of Colorado and when she thinks she needs my particular brand of expertise? I do not hesitate.

This play is called The Rape Of the Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias, and its premise is basically the date rape of a high school girl. But what makes this play amazing to watch is the overlapping of the art lesson, the history lesson, the art history lesson, and the contemporary realistic story happening as an intertwining thing. Ostensibly we get lawyers and counselors as narrators, but we also get a character named The News, and a multi-actor character portraying Wikipedia. The surrealism of it makes it that much more realistic.

My fight scene? No, it wasn’t a rape scene. We were present for the rape, but there was no explicit rape scene. Though we saw it. What this did was make it that much more emotional.

Go see this play. Go see it. It puts all of this #metoo stuff forth, and it does so very well. The perfect combination of comedy and drama. And documentary.