acting

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.”

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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.

Fish Heads n Tatts

I have a weekly tradition wherein I grab the latest paper issue of the Boulder Weekly and skim/read the whole thing, then end with the horoscopes. The horoscopes are written by one Rob Brezny, and I’ve long been delighted by their length and metaphorical quality.

The tradition concludes with me taking pictures of some of the horoscopes and sharing them via message to the select few people who are my regular recipients of same. That list includes the SO, his dad, a woman living in Arizona who we call the Raven Oracle, and a friend of mine I still call by her erstwhile burlesque name, Archimedes (what a cool burlesque name, amirite?). She’s on the cusp of Cancer and Gemini, so she gets both. The SO, too, is Gemini, and the rest of us are all Pisces.

My first tattoo I acquired in summer of 1995, in the middle of a booze-soaked, sweltering Shakespeare Festival season. I had just graduated with a BA and a BFA that December and had been living with my parents for that last semester, after two sets of roommates ended up bailing on me. So I figured, why not live for the summer in CSF housing? I was a full time employee of theirs (all year in fact, not just summer during the festival), so it was a perfect halfway house of sorts, till I could get into another, more independent housing situation.

The Shakespeare fest peeps would affectionately call the apartment complex wherein we were crammed from May through early August: Camp Shakespeare Fest, and that it was. An adult camp, with the post-work activities ranging from boozy ragers to pool parties (also boozy) to epic RPG campaigns (were the gaming sessions boozy? I don’t remember. Probably). I learned to drink in college, lovely lurkers, being relatively clean living in high school, so by the time the summer of ‘95 rolled around, I’d been drinking Absolut Kurant by the multiple full pint glass while studying, and my cocktail making skills were bar none (see what I did there), and made me something slightly more than a nonentity to the bigtime actors who actually got cast. This skill also made the apartment where I was bunked (with three other box office buddies) the host condo for most of the ragers. I partied so much those few summers in the mid ‘90s, that it cost me a good friend. Not my fault, at least not entirely, but that’s a story for another day.

At one point, in the middle of a grand party, I cornered the brilliant actor who’d been playing Hamlet in both the eponymous Shakespeare play and in Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, in rep. In a brief moment of semi-mature awareness, I drunkenly asked him, “Hey Chris: how is it you can drink so much and yet still be able to act so well?!”

He was a tall young man with a mop of dark hair held in place with a bandanna (and I do mean “was”—he died in Seattle only a few years ago, not very much older than me). He stopped his swaying lumber across the partying room, turned to me, and in proper dramatic fashion, suitable for a Shakespearean actor, declared, “Like this:” and at that, he raised the full bottle of Cuervo he’d had dangling from his left hand to his lips. He stayed that way for an inordinately long time, until, lowering the significantly diminished bottle, repeated, “Like that.” And he sauntered, swaying only slightly, off to hobnob with a couple fellow cast members.

But I was talking about horoscopes, and first tattoos, and titling this post with fish. So my first sexual partner and college boyfriend’s name was Ricky. (This time I don’t mean “was” as he’s alive and well [as well as one can be with Crohn’s disease] with a beautiful wife and son in Pittsburgh and we’re still friends). He was a lovely willowy Gothy Puerto Rican, not much taller than me but much slimmer, that had such a gift of the pessimistic snark that one of our acting profs used to nickname him “Ricky Sunshine.” I can’t help but think, in retrospect, that I was substituting for the original snarkmaster in my world, Paul, since I had no idea where he was at the time. Or maybe it’s a much simpler matter of: that shit turns me on.

Side note re: Ricky Sunshine: After the first time we made love (which was my first time ever doing it), he made me Ghirardelli hot chocolate, made with milk, because he found the beverage to be a particularly sensual one, and therefore perfect for post-coital enjoyment. Isn’t that rather adorable?

Anyway: Ricky had bought me a pendant to wear: an antiqued steel thing, about the size of a silver dollar, of two fish swimming around each other in a yin-yang type circular shape. They had textured scales and looked like Japanese koi. I say “was,” because though I kept this necklace for a long time, my ex-husband ended up forcibly adopting it, and wearing it often until the leather strap broke. When I moved out of my ex’s place, he kept Ricky’s pendant.

But early that summer of 1995, I actually went and got my first tattoo. Keep in mind: this was just before the huge late-‘90s tattoo craze, till now pretty much everyone, professional or no, is inked. Back then, ink was still quite rare. I went in and had that pendant of the pair of fish tattooed on the smooth canvas of my right shoulder blade. Back then, it was still important to me to keep my ink relatively small and in a place that was easy to cover up. Yanno, because acting career. It ended up being a couple inches in diameter—bigger by far than the necklace, just because ink bleeds and it’d be impossible to make it any smaller. Though old, bluish, and smudged now, I still love it, and refuse to get it retouched.

That night of the day of the virgin tattooing was also one of the many big parties at our CSF apartment. Back then they didn’t just slap cling wrap over it and tell you to oil it in an hour or so: no, they bandaged it thoroughly, instructed you to use neosporin only, and to keep it covered for at least 5 hours before applying same. Obediently, I waited the allotted amount of time, then had the artistic unveiling at the party, right when everybody was in that particular phase of soused that I’m sure you can imagine. I had found a racer-back tank top just for the occasion, and whipped off the bandage to many oohs and aahs.

And then, one of my actor buddies lurched up to me, and, by way of celebration, chomped his teeth down directly onto the fresh ink. He basically bit the whole tattoo—it fit completely into his vodka soaked maw.

I had been admonished to keep the new artwork clean, to avoid touching it, etc., and so I was convinced this fucker had ruined my new milestone with one bite. “I’m so sorry!!” He groveled when I lit into him, “I didn’t realize it was so new! I’m sorry! It still looks fine…” to which one of my other friends pointed out that with all the alcohol in our dude’s mouth, the bite was certainly sterilized to some degree.

It was indeed, as my biting friend observed, fine. And healed fine, and is aging beautifully (fuzzy blue, as I mentioned, as tattoos do).

My horoscope the week I write this is all about an undefeated samurai. Which of course makes me think of all kinds of new tattoo ideas. Anyway, I can’t afford another one anytime soon, though I have plans for three and an addiction-like desire for a new one as soon as I can. Ah well. We’ll see.

The all-powerful samurai is a good image for me right now, though, because I’ve been feeling powerless. Like my efforts into things are for naught. So thanks to Brezny for that totem to keep in front of me, like a wiggling lure, for motivation & inspiration. And that’s not fishy.

Shikin haramitsu dai komyo. And cheers to Camp Shakespeare Fest–that real big fish tale from my youth.

P.S. I know I have a picture of that night with my fresh, sharp tatt on my shoulder, a drunk friend pointing at it for the camera like a Price Is Right model. But I can’t for the life of me find it. Sorry bout that.

Sign up for Advanced Stage Combat plea #4

And the reason this time is:

Strange and unusual weapons.

At Metro, the beginning Stage Combat class covers the basics of both unarmed and rapier techniques. And as you might imagine, the whole 16 weeks’ worth of time is necessary for the introduction and especially the practice, of the bare basics.

In the advanced class, everyone enters knowing the basics, basically (we of course do a review session on our first day), and so we can use that knowledge to move forward into other stuff. This coming semester, we’ll be doing broadswords and staffs, as you’ve already heard about.

But there’s other stuff we’ll cover, too: some have to do with harder versions of the basic weapons. For example, large group fights, sword fighting up and down stairs a la Errol Flynn, circular or erratic footwork in sword fighting, advanced taihenjutsu like dive rolls, simulated (and real) martial arts throws, falling from a height, etc. (See me below, playing around on a climbing wall with a past advanced class–we learned some aerial dance rope stuff as well as basic climbing, plus falling from a height.)

In the past, I’ve also done micro-units on martial arts styles and found weapons (which are normal everyday objects used as weapons–something that pops up in current theatre far more often than, say, swords), and then of course one can also use classic weapons techniques to inform other, more unusual ones.

For example, a knowledge of basic Japanese katana technique will make you pretty decent at wielding a lightsaber (and staff knowledge helps with that double-bladed number Darth Maul had).

This coming Fall (if I can get 12 students signed up), we will be doing a video-game fight unit. And wouldn’t it be cool if I got UCD’s renowned film department in on that project. Is mo-cap, animation, or film technique in our future? Will I bring this class (as I have done for one of our summer private courses) down to one of the Parkour studios in Denver for specialized training? Time will tell. That’s if I get the enrollment numbers.

A reminder: anyone can audit, but anyone attending the three schools on Auraria campus (MSU, CCD, and UCD) can sign up for this course. As of last time I checked, I had 6 enrolled, which is half the required number I need for the class to go.

So. What are you waiting for?

Plea to sign up for Advanced Stage Combat #3

And the central reason in this post, that you should sign up for Advanced Stage Combat at MSU this Fall?

One word: broadswords.

A few years back, the theatre department purchased a bunch of beautiful hand-and-a-half broadswords that are big enough to warrant good broadsword technique, but short and light enough that they’re easy to wield. And the sound they make, clanging together, is diviiiiine…

Thing is, whereas the rapiers are used in the beginning course, and every so often in productions (like, when we do Shakespeare, for example), the broadswords are rarely, if ever, used. So we’re gonna break em out in advanced class. If I can get six more people to sign up, that is.

(The pic below is not class, and not those particular swords, but is an image from my time in the late ’90s as a stunt performer at the Renaissance Festival. It shows how much awesome fun playing w broadswords can be.)

Plea #2: sign up for Advanced Stage Combat

Reason Number 2 of thousands:

Six foot staffs.

Even in SAFD land, the six foot staff (what they call quarterstaff) is not often taught in the basic stage combat courses. This is certainly understandable to a certain extent, as it’s not one of those weapons that most actors will most often find themselves wielding.

This coming fall semester, however, I will be adding staff back into the Stage Combat curriculum. Fun fact: when I first designed the beginning Stage Combat course for Metro back in 2005, there were three weapons systems they all learned: Unarmed, Staff, and Sword (rapier). I later axed the staff unit, for to spend more time with the swords and the finals, and with the knowledge that the staff (though basic weapons training for me at the time in martial arts) wasn’t really a fundamental weapon most beginners would need to know about.

But it’s so very much fun!! And so this fall we will be wielding them again for the first time in about a dozen years. So if you’re an Auraria student or want to audit, get on your registration now so I can hit my minimum enrollment before cancellation. Do eet.

Musings Upon a New (ish) Semester

Well fuck. 

I use invective, lovely lurkers, with conscience and reason. Why I just used one of the words that would make my movie Rated R in America is that I just saw that the last post on this blog was posted in, like, mid-August. Seriously, what the fuck? Why do you tolerate this kind of behavior from me, huh? Are you all so busy reading Parallel Bars that you can’t be bothered? Can’t say I blame you, truth be told…

So I’m jogging in the reins of Week 4 at both Metro and Front Range, Week 2 of Regis, and the verrrry beginning of Week 1 at DU. And lemme tell ya about the cool shit that’s happening at all those fine institutions (okay, I’m going with this invective thing):

At Metro: I’m teaching that online Staging Cultures course I’ve told you about before. It’s a really good reading list, lovely lurkers. Let me know if you want it. I’m also doing a MW (that’s Monday & Wednesday, kids) Intro to Theatre, which is a delightful gen ed course I haven’t done in a while. Man are those First Year Success students bright eyed and enthusiastically bushy tailed! They’re just about to embark on their historical presentation projects AND their Raisin in the Sun unit, so wow how much good material can we stomach at 11am? A lot, apparently. Youthful energy, I’m tellin ya…

Beginning Stage Combat over at Metro is Friday mornings as is usual, but as is not usual, it’s SO FULL YOU GUYS! There’s, like, 24 or something people in it, and they’re all lovely young talented energetic insane theatre majors and I am having so much fun and getting so old…. They’re just about to start choreographing their Unarmed fights, and I could not be more excited!

At Regis: I have two lovely and talented grad students doing a one on one Writing the Novel course w me; and one other lovely and talented grad student doing my own self-constructed YA Literature course (one on one, natch. It’s nearly always one on one at Regis). It’s going to be some stellar writing, which will only make me wish I had more time to work on my own work….

At Front Range: it’s two evening courses: a Comp I and a Comp II. The former is revising their Mini-Essays as we speak (Er, as I type), and you know what that means! That’s right: the Mini-Essay Contest winner post is imminent! Let’s hope it’s not the next one, as I need to be more frequent than that here….

Comp II as is usual these days for me, functions under a theme of Creativity and Innovation. They just finished their (quite high quality) Elevator Pitches, and now have just been introduced to the Analyzing An Image essay, which is where they pick an ad or psa and analyze it in essay format. Should be some good reading.

And finally,

At DU: Children’s Literature started today! As my ancient, steam-powered laptop decided to become a doorstop recently, it was quite the challenge to get that course shell updated and ready to go for a fresh crop of Professional Writing graduate students. But I am nothing if not diligent. And, yes, I have a lot of work to do still, but hey at least it’s up and functioning, and thanks to the SO, I have a brand spanking new refurbished box I can now use to get everything even more ship-shape. Thanks to that generous soul…

Oh but that’s not all! I also continue to have professional endeavors:

Bronze Fox Burlesque is doing their next show at License no.1 under the loose theme of Clue (the movie) and murder mysteries in general. I am mulling over choreography for a duet and a new solo right now…

Metro is doing The Country Wife in a couple weeks, a ribald comedy of no manners at all, and I am consulting the period movement as well as choreographing and directing a raucous chick fight with fans. And maybe fisticuffs.

I’m still writing for Parallel Bars and Your Boulder, editing the SO’s spectacular new book, and I’m just now starting to think I could remount my Retro Reviews of Sherlock, over on Sherlock’s Home, now the 4th season is far enough away…..

So.

Megan shows my Intro students the ropes. Literally.

Hm.

I guess there’s a reason it’s taken me so long to post here. Yeah, well. NO FUCKING EXCUSES, AMIRITE?

Ahem. Carry on….

Brecht and Storytelling part 1

I came across this old (OLD!!) paper in my continued culling of belongings, lovely lurkers, and I was still interested in its arguments, so I thought I’d share. It was the final paper for my Senior Seminar at CU Boulder, for my BFA in Acting, waaaay back in 1995. It’s a little longish for a blog, so I will post it in multiple parts. Here’s Part 1.


Brecht and Storytelling
Written by Jenn Zuko for Senior Seminar, BFA Acting program @UCB, 1995
PART 1

Audiences have difficulty engaging in and understanding Brechtian acting. Brecht’s idea of separating the actor and character is meant to touch the audience intellectually, to “alienate” the audience and let them watch the action at an emotional distance, but this idea often fails in practice. Brechtian productions, therefore, are done rarely, and when done, are met with criticism: “In his own home Brecht has been criticized … The cool, calculated, artificial, expressionistic acting is against our traditions and spirit” (Rouse). Having the presence of a narrator, whether in set design or textual style, violates what most theatregoers view as a “normal” play, and so most are thrown off by this style.

Storytelling, however, also has the presence of a narrator, and has a separation of teller and character that hits a viewer more in the mind than the gut. Yet storytelling continues to gain large audiences of all ages, and is practiced and performed with great success by many. Why is it, then, difficult for audiences to enjoy Brecht’s alienated acting, while storytelling (which is much the same style) still enchants and engages?

In my last paper, I attempted to answer this question by analyzing the acting styles and techniques of Brecht’s work and that of the storyteller. Here, I will pursue this question further by discussing character construction in both acting styles. How the character is formed directly affects not only the acting, but the structure of the entire play or story and how it moves the audience.

The character construction modern audiences see and to which they are most accustomed is the realistic system originated by Stanislavski. His way of creating a character is so widespread that his “Method” (or variations thereof) are taught as the only approach in most acting programs. That is, the actor and character are inseparable; as an audience member, one must believe that the person onstage enacting a role is indeed that character. As an actor, one delves into the past history and inner thoughts of the character, and strives to be “believable” in the role. Then, the directors and designers clothe the actor and her environment in authentic-looking costumes and scenery. This way, in all respects, the audience member succumbs to the illusion that this is a different person in a different place. This indistinction between actor and character may be one of the reasons (as I argued in the last paper) that audiences have a hard time sitting through Brecht, since Brecht tried to separate the person of the actor and their character. Kasimierz Braun describes it thus:

This is an actor, with a name, personal life, political opinions, a member of a specific society, and that is a character, a creature of literature and imagination. The actor was not subordinated to the character” (117).

One can understand why, when audiences are so accustomed to Stanislavskian realism, they would have difficulty engaging with this strange Brechtian separation.

Yet we still have not explained why storytelling, which is much the same in theory as Brecht (that is, the

The man himself, Bertolt Brecht. And the cigar is just a cigar.

separation between actor and character is certainly present in storytelling) flourishes marvelously with the same modern audiences, where Brecht’s plays remain relatively esoteric.

Perhaps Michael Kirby can help us. We have just discussed how Stanislavskian characters are formed: by the actor in effect becoming the character in psychology, physical bearing, and costume. We have also concluded that for realistic theatre, constructing a character constitutes creating the illusion of another person in another place. Brecht did not want to create this illusion as such; rather, he wanted his characters, through alienation, to keep the audience engaged intellectually, not fooled into a fantasy world and duped into emotional empathy. Michael Kirby (he of Happenings fame) describes acting as a “matrixed” performance: one that has a structured, imaginative situation surrounding it. In the following quote, Kirby describes the difference between the realistic way of creating a character, and his characterless performer of the Happening:

“Acting might be defined as the creation of character and/or place: details of ‘who’ and ‘where’ the performer is are necessary to the performance. The actor functions within subjective or objective person-place matrices. The musician, on the other hand, is non-matrixed. He attempts to be no one other than himself, nor does he function in a place other than that which physically contains him and the audience.”

Kirby’s concept of performers in the Happening is that none of them are different characters or existing in any other world besides this present one. So, though they are not acting, they are still performing. This sounds almost opposite to the realistic character construction, and it seems as though Brecht is trying to have both Stanislavski and Kirby present in his characters. Each character, for Brecht, should be real in their intentions and actions, but behind them is a consciousnesses which comments on those actions: that of the actor, who is only himself, and separate from his role. This combination is the center of why Brecht doesn’t do it for most audiences.

Where does storytelling fit into all this? In practice, it distances the audience by separating the teller from the characters, and, like Kirby’s performers, each teller wears no costume, puts up no set, and attempts to be no one else but herself when she is the narrator. So why is storytelling more widely practiced with success than Brecht? There is one major difference between the two that might be the cause for success in one and not the other:

THE NARRATOR.

 


Stay tuned here for Part 2.

(Image credit. Works Cited will appear after the final installment.)