The More You Holmes

From: Elementary, the last two episodes ever… /sniff/

Names: Altamont, Sigerson

Reference: In the last two eps of stellar Sherlockian show Elementary, we see and hear about Sherlock using these two names as aliases as he is feigning death. In the original canon, everyone (including faithful Watson) thinks Holmes dead, until he returns in fine form to solve the murder of Ronald Adair (which happens to be another character name from canon that appears again here). Sigerson is one of the canon aliases Holmes tells Watson about upon his return.

In Elementary, Joan Watson is in on the fake death, but has lost track of him, and so in the last ep, Sherlock tells her in a verbatim quote from the original canon story “The Empty House”:

“You may have read of the remarkable explorations of a Norwegian named Sigerson; but I am sure it never occurred to you that you were receiving news of your friend.”

Altamont is a moniker that original canon Holmes uses not in the 3 years during his death, but in a story much more chronologically late than that: “His Last Bow.” In this rare omnisciently narrated short story, Holmes (now in his 60s) foils a German spy, with the help of an elderly, automobile-driving, comfortably-waistcoated Watson. Holmes had masqueraded for two years as an Irish-American tough guy named Altamont, and, after the conclusion of the story, delightfully complains not only about his goatee, but the fact that his language is no doubt forever sullied by his long years of Americanisms.

The last episode of Elementary was called “Their Last Bow,” no doubt in honor of the canon story of almost the same name.

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The Palm Of My Hand

It’s been said several times and by different people, that I know how to capture an audience, and hold them in the palm of my hand. Those that have attributed that superpower to me aren’t in fact wrong. It’s both a talent of mine, and also a skill. What do I mean by both?

You’ve no doubt heard of the nature vs. nurture argument vis a vis psychology as well as behavior. Is it something passed down in the genes, & inherent in the person from birth (the SO’s half-Asian children loving rice and not doing well with milk; a person’s sexual orientation), or are the things a person is good at and the things they do because of their environment/how they’re raised (there’ve been multitudinous debates about what made the Columbine shooters do what they did, and also about where talent comes from)? I want to talk about the very latter.

Growing up, I was a dancer, writer, and theatre person, habits and behaviors of which having started almost from day 1. As a toddler, it went beyond loving Alice in Wonderland: I *became* her for days on end. At 4 or 5, my obsession with Wizard of Oz went way beyond merely loving the movie and reading some of the books (yes, I was an advanced reader); I cast my family members as the roles. To this day, my mother still gives me shit for casting her as the Wicked Witch of the West (my dad was the scarecrow, I was Dorothy, and my little brother was Toto, natch). It wasn’t till adulthood when I could explain to her that that was the strongest female character in the movie: Glinda, my mom certainly was not, but neither was she Auntie Em. And she couldn’t be Dorothy. It actually fits well with her awful temper and etc. but I digress. Though, not really…

I have also always been an excellent mover & dancer. I’ve had ability beyond my technical skill level all my life, culminating in a prominent aerial dance company casting me in lead roles in their dance pieces in the mid-late ‘90s, while still calling me a “non dancer” the while. The director couldn’t deny my ability, though, and my dancer mom would always confirm by saying everyone can learn technique, but that I had something more: an innate talent.

As far as presence, that would soon translate to stage presence, and my junior high drama teacher always told me something similar: I had an innate talent, a natural knack, of taking a stage and dominating it. Immense stage presence and personal power. I remember he once did a “test” on the class, telling us all about it first: we were to, one at a time, fake some laughter, and he wanted to see if any of our fake stage laughs would be contagious, making the room join in with the real thing. Nobody’s laughter was contagious (fake laughter isn’t, unlike fake yawns).

Well, nobody’s, that is, but mine.

This vast personal power has been good for me in a few ways, very difficult in several others, but that’s another post for another day.

But.

Is this all from some mysterious talent I was born with? Or is it more a matter of my environment, and how I was raised, than any magical gift? I mean, I started displaying these talents and powers very very young. My mother, though, was a dance education major when she became pregnant with me (I always joke that I’ve been performing onstage since *before* I was born). She was a stay-at-home mom for my early development, taking me to the library twice a week, reading to me constantly, and including me in her children’s dance / creative movement classes until I was too old to take them, which is when I drifted into junior high theatre. So, I mean…

My junior high as well as high school had robust theatre and music programs, with brilliant professionals teaching us, which means that by the time I got to college and entered their BFA program in acting (one of the prominent ones in the country), I had undergone literally a lifetime of excellent training. Training, and encouragement. And of course, after the BFA program, I was that much better.

Would I have this incredible ability to hold a crowd as a middle aged adult, this immense personal power and huge presence, had I not grown up in that environment? With, say, parents who despised and denigrated the arts, weren’t artists themselves, or even forbade me to engage in performance the way I did, not only onstage but in everyday life, as I developed? If I had gone to crappy schools, with bad teachers, or no arts exposure in school at all? Well. Maybe. Would’ve been a lot harder, if I even managed to recognize the desire.

But.

That, of course, is a series of questions impossible to answer sufficiently. There’s literally no way to know.

One of the mysteries of the ages: nature or nurture, hard work or innate talent, magic or science…. actually the answer to that myriad mystery, methinks, is: Both.

Both, of each of those things.

And yesterday I cupped the Blue Dime Cabaret Central City audience in the palm of my hand, both as I danced and as I chatted during our producer spiel. It’s a thing that feels natural, for me. I get a little nervously charged before a show, but performing is easy—I know it like the back of my hand. Or the palm.

Then again, I’ve been doing it since before I was born…

The More You Holmes

From: Elementary s7ep10

Title / Name: “The Devil’s Foot” / Mortimer Tregennis

Reference: Eponymous canon story tells of Mortimer Tregennis, who threw powdered Devil’s foot root into the fire at a card game his siblings were playing with him, before escaping, hopefully to inherit the family estate.

In the original, Brenda Tregennis’ lover, classic Victorian character Leon Sterndale, African explorer and badass, kills Mortimer vigilante style in revenge, with his own Devil’s foot root. Holmes finds Sterndale’s motives so sympathetic that he lets him go.

In the Elementary episode, “The Latest Model,” this exact story (including the year it happened, 1910), is the subject of a documentary made by a plagiarist of another character’s diligent research work, making the latter potentially homicidal. Sherlock & Joan aren’t investigating the Devil’s foot story, but the dangers of the men who retold it.

So, though the story itself wasn’t updated and enacted in Elementary, instead it was preserved like a period piece or a fossil, in the middle of the contemporary mystery being solved around it.

Yoga For Misanthropes

My new movement guide, Yoga For Misanthropes, is now live on YouTube. I was asked to go online and be my brand of snarky yoga teacher for those who want to start a habit of health and happiness, but hate people enough that they don’t want to go to a class. No, really: I was literally asked this, on Twitter. And how could I refuse?

I will be posting videos of yoga and Pilates sequences and other combinations thereof, that you can follow at home, of all levels, starting with the first vid that’s up today.

https://youtu.be/rLQuGLd7vv0

This first vid is a long gooey stretch sequence, and the sound may be a little iffy, as I recorded it in stage combat class during warmups. I’m planning on putting up more starting today.

Enjoy!

The Deconstruction Workers

I forgot to share with you, lovely lurkers: stellar intellectual podcast The Deconstruction Workers had me on to talk about the Problematic Badass Female Tropes the other day. It was a heckuva fun and stimulating conversation, and I am honored to be on their wall of Workers now on their website. Listen above, and tell me what you think (season 3, ep 4).

This is such an epitome of not only Dr. Bell, the host, but the vibe of the podcast in general.

Don’t Read My Lips—Read the Rest of My Body

Back in my twenties, my main day-job was as a full time worker in a place not unlike Kinko’s: we made copies, did some graphic design, but mainly made good looking hard copies of things (brochures, booklets, presentations, etc.) for the professionals of Boulder. I worked in the bindery—a big warehousey area in the back where we had one of those huge industrial blades you had to operate with both hands, comb binders, wire spiral binders, two folding machines that always did their job crookedly and with mild electric shocks to the laborer that wasn’t paying attention.

But the biggest, oldest, most intimidating monster of a machine we had back in the bindery was something called the Perfect Binder. This was a brand name, though those of us unfortunate enough to have to use it (pretty much only me and the manager), adopted the moniker Perfect for this thing as a decidedly ironic descriptor.

The Perfect Binder was the size of three clothes washers lined up side by side—basically, a huge solid steel behemoth that took up an entire side of the room. Its job was to create “real” looking book-style bindings: it would roughly trim one side of a stack of paper, apply piping hot glue, and affix a cardstock cover to same. Thing is, this machine was a relic of the Industrial Revolution, and thereby needed a human (with ear protection, of course) watching it at all times to supervise the process—why, it’s hard to say: if one got anywhere near the thing as it ran, there was real danger of injury. But if you didn’t attend to it, it’d spew out glue-encrusted abominations that looked nowhere near Perfect.

Suffice to say, the Perfect Binder was slow, painstaking, and LOUD when it was working correctly. One day, I had a sizeable order that needed to be Perfect Bound, and the machine wasn’t working right—it was getting paper stuck in its craw, and basically it wasn’t doing its thing. I got the manager, one Jamie, to come in and help me assess the issue, so he came in and put on his ear protection. We put a sample into the Perfect Binder, and turned it on. Only a couple seconds into its faulty process, the whole room-sized thing JUMPED and jammed, making an even louder, sharper, and more alarming roar than its usual, before it conked out, secreting hot glue.

Once it had turned itself off, I sort of came to and looked at Jamie and myself. I had taken a quick step back away from the machine, and I was standing there rigidly, my arms up over my chest, forearms covering my breasts, fists positioned just under my ear coverings. I looked over at Jamie, who had been standing next to me as we had flipped the On switch. He, too, had taken a big step back in a natural flight response, but he, though standing just as stiffly as me, had both his hands crossed in front of himself, covering his groin.

I looked at Jamie, and at myself, and started laughing. He asked me what, and I indicated how we had both reacted (we were both still frozen in our respective defensive positions). Once we relaxed enough to take our big headphones off and realize the Perfect Binder wasn’t going to come back to life and kill us, we marveled at the gestures and movements both of us had made, completely without thinking, in the face of danger. I was amazed at the gendered reactions—I had covered my chest, his protective hands went right to his groin—and he was more amazed at the very big, clear poses we had adopted, entirely without consciously doing so.

Now, I’ve been in theatre since I was a very small child (my mother was a dance education major at SIU when she became pregnant with me and so I always joke that I’ve been appearing onstage since *before* I was born), and professionally so since my teens. I’ve also been presiding over classrooms full of people for the past 25 years or so. I say this because, unlike most humans, speaking onstage in front of an audience is not one of my greatest fears. In fact, I’m not afraid of it at all anymore—it’s completely second nature and I do it pretty much every day.

But most people are just as afraid of getting up in front of other people and speaking, as Jamie and I were of that malfunctioning Perfect Binder. It’s terrifying for most, and for most, even if you’re a business pro that’s somewhat used to it, it will still fill you with life or death, fight or flight terror. And the big defensive postures most people will perform while onstage? They won’t have any idea they’re doing them, no more than did Jamie and I. But imagine: you’re a male executive, doing an important presentation in front of something just as scary and intimidating as the jamming Perfect Binder; say, a panel of Fortune 500 C-suites? What impression are you going to give, standing stiffly in front of them, both hands clasped over your groin?

If you don’t have the kind of training I do (and why would you, unless you happen to have undergone a rigorous training background in theatre), no matter how smoothly your rehearsed speech might be in your voice, no matter how awesome your PowerPoint slides are, your body will belie all of that. Your body tells your real story, and it doesn’t lie. It can’t.

This is why I’m bringing my wide movement expertise into the world of business—I know how to get your body to tell the story you want it to, to align the story your body is telling your audience in that lizard-brain, primal way, that no number of words can correct if it’s not right there with it. Thing is, I don’t do a one-size-fits-all boilerplate for this. Sure, there are certain physical techniques I like to share with all of my clients, but I don’t go in and “correct” people’s “wrong” postures; I work with each person’s particular strengths to align their physical storytelling with their verbal message. And it’s kind of a bonus that some of the breathing techniques I work with do in fact soothe stage fright quite a bit.

I’m an English and a Theatre professor and have been a stunt coordinator for 25 years. I’ve survived the Perfect Binder. I know how movement connects to message.

How can I help you?

What Was I Scared Of?

“Well,

“I was walking in the night, and I saw nothing scary. / For I have never been afraid of anything. Not very. / Then, I was deep within the woods, when suddenly, I spied them: / I saw a pair of pale green pants, with nobody inside them.”

Thus begins one of Dr. Seuss’ not-so-well-known stories, found within the collection titled: The Sneetches and Other Stories.

The original Seuss illustration of the story’s climax, and…

…the 2019 Stage Movement class at Metro’s tableau imitation of Seuss’ drawing.

You’ll have heard of the eponymous Sneetches: birdlike creatures, some have bellies with stars and others have none upon thars. The Star-Belly Sneetches treat the Plain-Bellies horribly, and we hear they’ve done so for years. In the end (spoiler alert), after being bilked by a ruthless Fix-It-Up-Chappie, the Sneetches learn their lesson, and decide that “no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.”

What Was I Scared Of? has a similar moral: in the end the narrator comes to a worldview-shattering realization that the pale green pants were “just as scared as I,” and declares, “I was just as strange to them / as they were strange to me.”

Learning to not only appreciate those different than us, but coexist with them, seems to be a common Seussian theme, across multiple Seuss stories. More importantly: that the differences we perceive in others, no matter how disturbing they may seem at first, are really, as the narrator of The Sneetches remarks, “…so small, / you might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.”

I haven’t performed this story since the reprise, in 2002, of the original production, put up by me and a small number of performers I dubbed Five Funny Faces (after a favorite class-closing game a beloved acting prof used to do with us), in 2000. In 2000, we performed at Nomad Theatre, and in ’02 we were recruited for the Seussentennial celebration, at the Boulder Public Library. This is after the previous school-grant production at the now-defunct Guild Theatre in east Boulder, a couple years before, which in turn came out of my directing project at CU Boulder the year before that: 3 By Seuss.

For all these past theatrical endeavors, I had adapted five Dr. Seuss stories for the stage, and when it became untenable to perform them myself &/or with my own peeps, I began to teach this Seussian production as the final exam for Stage Movement classes. It’s a good lesson in creating elaborate sets (and weird characters) with only physicality. It’s an effective cumulative lesson of all the things the Stage Movement students are supposed to have learned through the semester.

Plus, it’s fun.

And it’s good to remind all these young people about (getting off my lawn, and) Dr. Seuss’ moral lessons, too. Especially nowadays, when it seems power is all in making the other side look bad, or feel bad, or creating an Other Side in the first place, where there really shouldn’t be one. It’s a new type of commerce for the Internet era: the trade in outrage.

I’m dusting off my own Seussian chops to include What Was I Scared Of? as an act for the upcoming Blue Dime Cabaret. I’ve recruited two

Alan, Adam, and Prof. Jenn have never been afraid of anything. Not very…

young men from my most recent Stage Movement class to perform it with me. I’m including it for a few reasons, the main one of which is that the show’s theme is Back To School / Let’s Get Educated, which means I’m literally bringing a piece of the education I regularly provide, up onto the stage. With some of my actual students to whom I’ve provided same, no less.

Also, who didn’t read Dr. Seuss as a kid in school? We all did. At least, I should hope we did. So it fits.

It should be a huge amount of fun, and I’ve placed us last, so that the audience will leave with that warm fuzzy feeling you get at the end of the story, when the narrator meets the pants quite often in his regular world, smiling and saying “hi” instead of freaking out. It’s a lovely ending.

Hopefully after enjoying the show, the audience will “forg[e]t about stars, / and whether they have one, or not, upon thars.”

The More You Holmes

From: Elementary ep. 7.8

Character Names / Title: Three Garridebs

Reference: the eponymous short canon story is about a crafty American who targets a man named Garrideb, getting him to leave his house to look for the third Garrideb, so the false Garrideb can fetch a valuable criminal tool hidden in the real Garrideb’s basement.

In this episode of Elementary, the Three Garridebs is what gamers call a Side Quest, but it does sound like the mystery Joan and Sherlock solve during the episode’s commercial breaks is pretty similar, at the very least.

Fun fact: the Three Garridebs also show up in BBC series Sherlock but the less said about the rococo and ridiculous fourth season of that show, the better. Ahem.

Cherophobia

I had a good friend in the dregs and just out of my college days, name of Christina. She was six foot one in bare feet, ectomorphic & slender, with a glorious shoulder length of densely curly, dark orange ginger hair. She had alabaster skin and a loudly raucous laugh. She never hesitated to ask questions or to demand you clarify if she didn’t understand something—an unabashedly curious woman, always. A few of my friends (including my then-fiancé and an old eccentric I knew from high school) were all roommates with her, all of us bunked in a lovely suburban bungalow with a finished garage which is where she lived. One of our several roommates, a fellow aerial dancer in the same company as me, had a pet python (or was it a boa constrictor?)—a big yards-long female serpent named Lucy (short for Lucifer). Christina would quite often, post-shower, in tank top and pj bottoms, pace the sidewalk just outside our house, chatting on the phone, Lucy draped over her shoulders and entwined in her arms, while her bright red hair dried. I’m convinced our neighbors must’ve thought she was Eve incarnate, or some kind of goddess. They weren’t completely wrong.

It was Christina and I, in our several jaunts to the Trident coffeeshop & bookstore, who coined the phrase “literati” to denote a social date that was focused on study (and intellectual and cultural criticism in conversation). Famously, it was us whose conclusion to Kant’s manifesto was, “shut up and paint” (she was an art history major, a couple years my junior, and so was concluding her studies even as I graduated, sword-fighted, trapezed, and wrote and read still). She was my co-producer for the wee theatre company I named Five Funny Faces after a beloved theatre prof’s regular class closing game, the first time we did the Dr. Seuss show, and it was she who taught me how to eat sushi as we counted the house takings post-show each night.

What’s my point in describing the amazing Christina, when the title of this post is a particular, not obviously related, vocabulary word? Well, this imposing, snake wrangling, ginger goddess, one who worked theatrical rigging as her job when I knew her, and who went on to be a rigger for Cirque du Soleil after she graduated, had one potent aversion; a distaste strong as her. A phobia, if you will.

She hates cherubs.

Now recall: she has an art history degree. So she knows her shit around sculpture and painting of all kinds that depict the many angelic denizens of the heavenly (Christian mostly) realm. She has no beef with angels, or warriorlike cherubim with their flaming swords…all that is fine. It’s the “fat winged babies” as she puts it, that she cannot stand.

It was such a stigma (not stigmata) to her that we would give her birthday cards with cute fat baby cherubs in them just to watch her squirm and retch. Good times.

I know that’s not what this vocab word actually means, but that’s what it made me think of, and though the real meaning of the word is a deep part of my regular life, I choose instead to celebrate the beautiful and extraordinary Christina, who has a major cherub phobia.

CODA: she is now married to a Canadian whom she met during her Cirque adventures, and lives in Canada with him on a houseboat.

I need to email her.

The More You Holmes

From: Elementary ep. 7.5&6

Name: Odin Reichenbach

Reference: Of course, as anyone who’s read more than two original Sherlock Holmes stories knows, it’s at the Reichenbach Falls where the brilliant detective meets his demise. Or, at least, he did, until Arthur Conan Doyle was pressured enough to bring his creation back to life a decade later. Spoilers…

Naming an antagonist Reichenbach, especially when we know that Season 7 is Elementary’s last, is troubling to say the least. Will Reichenbach cause Sherlock’s fall at the end of the season, with or without a brief glimpse for the audience a la the end of BBC Sherlock season 2, or Batman: Dark Knight Rises? Or will the showrunners do this to us at the season’s halfway mark, and then give us an Empty House and maybe a Last Bow before the end of the end? We can only wait and see. I like to think it’ll be the latter–after all, typical seasons of Elementary are around 22 eps long, and we’re only on #6, with Odin Reichenbach having just been established as one of the most powerful villains this series has yet seen. So we’ll see.

(And why his first name is Odin–the All-Father, king of Norse mythology, one can only speculate. Me, I think it’s because god Odin sends his two ravens, Hugin and Muninn, out into the world to collect information, recounting it all back to him every evening when they return. Odin Reichenbach is the head of an all-pervasive social media platform, and is gathering information about the world all the time, just like his godlike namesake. I would be chuffed if he ended up losing an eye or hanging himself for more god-Odin parallels, but again one must wait and see.)