culture

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?

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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.

O, the Many Glorious Things I am Up To Right Now

Whew! Goodness, lovely lurkers, what’s been happening? Yet again I realize I have been neglecting you whilst writing personal essays and memoir type stuff (read: whining a lot) under my pen name. That writing, plus the robust article needs of YourBoulder, all are keeping my wee swordfighting mitts away from here. Owa Tana Siam. (Say it aloud. It’s one of the many sillinesses I remember uttered by the Great Yendor, mathematician and magician, the wizard that was Everything Good And Pure About The Renaissance Festival, back when I used to sling steel there.)

So let’s see, what mischief have I been managing lately? Here’s a list:

Work! I’m still reaching out all my feelers in the process of this career change. Peddling Your Body Tells Your Story to everybody that needs it. Which is, of course, everybody. In the meantime, I continue to tread water with my academic work: this summer it’s an online section of Staging Cultures, which you’ve heard me discuss before. An online Children’s Lit is coming up soonish for the grad students at DU, so that one should be fun–let me know if you’d like to be an audience for my read-aloud vids; I plan on making a bunch of new ones. Haven’t heard from Regis in a while, which makes me wonder if I’ve been canceled like a Whedon franchise there. But I’ve also applied to teach comp at CCD, so that might fill in some gaps come fall if they decide to have me on.

Play! er, I mean, Plays! I’m the fight director for an all-female production of Richard III at Lost & Found Theatre, which should be a gas. I taught my basic movement seminar to the cast the other day, and will go coordinate the fighty bits next week. My kingdom for a horse… After that, my next gig of that nature that I know of will be fight directing for FRCC’s production of MacBeth, in September. Is this a dagger I see before me?

Boobies! Burlesque, that is. Blue Dime Cabaret is going strong; still the crazy be-tasseled geniuses we are, we had two shows up at Charlie’s Bar in Central City for Lou Bunch Day, which looks quite likely to turn into a yearly commitment.

Charlie’s Bar never knew what hit em…

Which is cool. For those, I channeled the late great Madeline Kahn and did my quirky Zuko version of “I’m Tired” from Blazing Saddles. Then the very next week we were back in Boulder for our June Is Busting Out All Over show, for which I sang two numbers and also emceed. Our next show will be Back To School themed, which makes me realize I’m going to need to get myself a schoolgirl skirt. I’ll keep you posted on the date for that–it’ll be in August.

All that plus all the writing, plus divorce proceedings? I’m lucky I get to see my partner at all. Or, he is, I guess. Ahem. 😉

That’s all for now, folks. I’ll try to get back here for some Sherlockian nerdiness very soon. Ciao.

The 2019 Denver PCC, Starring ME!

If you were wondering whether to go to Denver Comic Con (now called Denver Pop Culture Con) this year, wonder no more! Why? Because I will be presenting four (4!) different times throughout the weekend (plus one small intellectual lightning round)–all different fascinating topics, all of which you do NOT want to miss. Here are the deets:

Friday, May 31:

Noon pm, room 603: Problematic Badass Female Tropes

I’ll be running down all 7 of my Problematic Badass Female Tropes that you’ve read on Writers’ HQ and have listened to me and Friend Jason blab about on the Outrider Podcast. Come listen and ask me questions afterwards. And buy me a DPCC beer and rail with me against the patriarchy.

Saturday, June 1:

Noon pm: Light Speed Academia (Room TBA)

I’ll have 5 minutes to expostulate and lecture in depth on a topic of my choice. Not sure what I’m picking yet–come see and be surprised and intellectually stimulated by me and my fellow nerdy academics.

3:30 pm: Three Rules For Protagonists (Room 504)

I did this very talk last summer, to a surprisingly packed audience. This talk goes over the Monomyth and the Three Rules (or questions) For Actors, and discuss not only how the two systems are intimately related, but also how they’re an easy and foolproof formula for powerful storytelling.

–I’m going to Goth Prom with the SO that night, so I will not likely be available for socializing after, but will be hightailing it to go get gussied up.–

Sunday, June 2:

3pm: Pop Culture Portrayals Of Trauma, Care, and Survival (Room 507)

I will be chairing this panel, as well as presenting my own section called “Sex and/or Violence,” in which I will talk about my work in Stage Combat and intimacy coordination for stage.

4:30 pm: The Fight is the Story (Room 601)

This is a presentation I’ve done almost every single year since this event has existed. In it, I discuss the necessity for fight scenes to be an essential part of the story they appear in. I discuss the Three Rules For Actors, and I also dissect, Ebert-like, a few different good and not so good examples of fight scenes.

Put these down on your schedule for that weekend, and I hope to see you all there! Now I gotta go edit some slides….

Red

I’ve only had red hair once in my life; it was for a play I was a lead in: I had to look like the other lead’s sister, and she was a redhead. So I got a hold of a cheap box of bright orange, and did it. My hair was long then, too—about as long as it is again now—so it actually took two boxes of dye to get it all. This was the mid ’90s, just before the Band Of Young Men and just after college. O wait, actually—I think this must have been my last or penultimate semester still in college, because I remember having pissed off the school’s powers that be by getting this part in a community show and not a school one. I could tell, too, which part in the school play (a dreary Irish drama) they wanted me for. The one I got (a singing narrative lead in a surrealist and violent play) was so very much more challenging than the Irish matriarch the people who were supposed to be educating me wanted to typecast me in. So I made the right decision, and they went ahead and cast a junior instead, who was just fine. I also had an intense emotional (and very nearly a sexual) relationship with a young man in that cast who was far too young and gay for me, but that’s a story for another post. Or actually probably not.

The big three romantic/pivotal relationships in my life were all redheads, which meant that I was not allowed to go ginger any other time. Why? It’s my hair, right? Yeah, but natural redheads get pretty bent out of shape if someone not from that mothership does it artificially. Though it’s funny—I’ve had more than one person tell me they think of me as a natural redhead. My hair stylist is one of them. I’m not a redhead! I protested, gobsmacked, when she said so. Sure you are, the sweet little psychic born-again assured me. I shook my (brown-haired) head.

That time I went dark mahogany brown, it turned out with too much burgundy in the mix. This was in the early aughts, and my ginger husband kept looking at me sidelong, until he finally had to admit he didn’t like it, at all. Those colors went great with my complexion and my green eyes, but nope. Too red.

In fact, the very first time I ever dyed my hair—I was 15—the only reason I got the balls to do it was that my best friend and bosom buddy, a bright orange redhead replete with freckles, threatened me. See, we were both in this mod-moving-into-proto-goth style, pretty hardcore. She said, “If you don’t dye your hair black? *I will!*”

The mod kids are mod. This would have been right before her threat and my subsequent first dye job.

Gaaaah okay okay!

Anyway, my hair loves dye: it soaks it right up and doesn’t grow back too awkwardly. That fateful day at age 15, it was a black and burgundy wedge cut. I’ve been going dark about yearly ever since (except that few months as a burnished ginger). And for goth prom a couple years ago, I’ve discovered my hair especially likes blue. Much to the trauma of my stylist. But I don’t mind. Not sure what I want to do for this year’s goth prom, except my dress is a sparkly charcoal gray. So? Dunno–maybe the copious gray growing back in is the best match.

Only a couple days after the boxes of orange met my tresses, I was standing at the bus stop on my way to rehearsal. A woman stopped me and exclaimed that I looked like a Celtic goddess with my height and my hair! I didn’t have the heart to tell her it wasn’t my natural color, or that Irish women of the time period she was talking about would’ve been half my size (let alone most likely black-haired). I just took the praise. And plugged my show.

Before you suggest it: I can’t go red for goth prom this year. The SO is a ginger.

Breakin’

Or maybe it’s Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. I couldn’t decide which. And now that I have, I must admit that I don’t remember if there were actual songs called that, within the soundtracks of those movies. Welp, too late—the title is chosen, and no I can’t be bothered to research those delightful pieces of ‘80s dross. Which are still so bad they’re gloriously good. Thanks anyway.

I was big into break dancing back in the day, being the daughter of a dancer, and wildly admired Michael Jackson’s incredible movement skills (it wasn’t break dancing, what he did—I’d call it a self-stylized form of jazz). One summer, at age 12 or 13, I took a break dancing class and concurrently, a jazz dance class that focused solely on the big dance number from Thriller. The album and subsequent music videos had just come out, and it was all the rage.

Still is, to an extent. Except. The recently released documentary on the horrifying activities that were regular occurrences at Neverland, plus #metoo, combine to make it not so easy to separate the artist from his art. The pedophile, I mean. From his art.

I have this discussion with most groups of my students: is it possible to appreciate and enjoy a work of art when the creator of same was a monster? I mean, beyond understanding the mental illnesses of some, like Van Gogh or Pollock. For example, can you enjoy Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, knowing its author photographed little girls in the nude? I happen to, but then I first fell in love with Lewis Carroll’s wonderful oeuvre of nonsense when I was myself a little girl of just the age he’d reportedly erotically fixate upon. I don’t have a correct answer to this issue, but as far as anyone knows, erotic obsessions aside, Dr. Dodgson never raped anybody. Not that that particularly helps.

There’s a mighty dance battle towards the end of She Kills Monsters, the play I’m helping RRCC with, and as I chose music clips and dances to include in the battle, of course I went right to including the iconic moves from Thriller. But then it hit me. Can I do this, anymore? Does this dance elicit joy? It used to—even as recently as last year, the Thriller dance was a go-to for iconic moves of the 1980s, and Halloween dance flash mobs were still joyfully doing it down the streets. But now?

I discussed it with the young students who would be performing the dance battle, and they concurred amongst themselves that the work is bigger than the man. But it bugged me, and when I brought it up later to the SO, he averred it was a bad idea. Putting that dance up on stage will not cause joy to an audience in late April 2019; it will cause discomfort at best, triggering at worst. Maybe in time we’ll be able to appreciate Michael Jackson’s art again, at a farther remove, but we really can’t now. Not anymore. So I removed the Thriller section from the dance battle.

And hey, maybe more time won’t heal those wounds Jackson caused. If they don’t, is that such a bad thing? Is the loss of a brilliant body of work worth the healing of the way too many survivors that are trying to live good lives in the aftermath of a nightmare? I’d say so.

Anyway, it’s high time we stopped praising the monsters for their art while waving away their wrongdoings. I’m looking at you, Woody Allen. Too long.

But that’s not why I titled this post Breakin’. It’s because I was breaking in these new boots at the time of this writing, and was feeling it a little, after a couple days straight of wearing them. I’m wearing them today again, to go teach the finished dance battle, sans Thriller, tonight.

Not nearly such an exciting topic, eh. Whatever. I’ll allow it.

P.S. Look at that photo. Talk about a Band of Young Men, amirite? And, yes, they’re about to enter into a dance battle. I mean, OBViously…