acting

Stage Combat in the Pandemic #4: fighting on film

I’m going in a brand new direction in the stage combat course this Spring: we’re going to be doing our unarmed unit all online! Check out this video in the vein of those stunt compilations you’ve seen around during lockdown: the participants are all MSU theatre students, alumni, or faculty. Oh, and my partner, too.

Sign up for stage combat so it won’t get canceled!

Stage Combat in the Pandemic #3b: Swords (lightsabers)

Honestly, need I say more?

We had lightsaber day once in class in the BeforeTimes. This is the 9-cut drill from Japanese swordsmanship and it’s super cool looking.

Okay, okay, here’s the deal: there are still only 5 students signed up for MSU Denver’s stage combat class next semester. I’ve been regaling you with the things I’m adding, changing, and planning for with the pandemic rules in mind, and the class is looking like it’s going to be a heckuva lot of fun.

One of the changes I’m making is I’m going to mainly do weapons work, keeping our safe distance and etc. So I’m adding staffs back in to the curriculum, as I mentioned, and we’ll be doing not one, but three kinds of swords!

My technique for cool looking lightsaber fights for stage are not based on the Star Wars canon styles, but on Japanese katana technique. I do this for several reasons, the main two of which have to do with the fights needing to look real (instead of a twirly non-fight dance like in episode 1), and that originally? Star Wars is a combination of a western and a samurai flick, and the “elegant weapon for a more civilized age” lends itself very well to katana technique.

Also, katana technique is much more versatile—anyone who’s an anime fan can then use the basic style for any sort of Japanese-looking fights, and the drill is based off of actual swordsmanship/martial arts, as opposed to a fictional or purely theatrical system. Learn lightsabers from me and that’s not all it’s useful for (though it’s some of the funnest).

How can you resist? Let’s get more masked avengers signed up, so we have these experiences! What are you waiting for?

Stage Combat in the Pandemic #1: Distance

When the plague first hit, lovely lurkers, I was just about to embark on the last unit of Metro’s Stage Movement class, and had to be quick about yoinking the whole unit to an online-only format. Since then, I’ve participated in three theatre productions on Zoom, one online-only stage combat class, and am just concluding teaching an asynchronous, all-online course at DU called Visual and Physical Communication, which is focused on body language.

Clearly, since March, we in The Biz have gotten pretty good at doing things you wouldn’t imagine you could do without being in-person; we figured out how to do these things remotely. Work has changed forever, methinks, and theatre certainly has.

I have been assigned my customary stage combat course at Metro this Spring (the semester begins mid-January), and I have to admit that I’m having a pretty good time shifting my curriculum in order to make the class safer, not the way it always is as far as theatrical combat, but to keep me and the students who take it plague-free.

Work From Home, armed with steel… (sketch by Paul Bradley)

The class will be meeting Fridays only, and there are several pandemic rules that all of campus is adhering to, including testing, flu shots, mandatory masks, sanitation mandates, and keeping the physical population of classrooms down. I am adding more of my own rules to my stage combat course, so as to keep it as safe as possible. Here’s the rundown, in a nutshell:

-our unarmed unit will be remote: students will learn basic punches and slaps, but no techniques that include touch (like chokes or grapples). We will learn these techniques for film, as opposed to emphasizing a live theatre approach. This unit will also be shorter, because…

-I am adding 6-foot staffs back into the curriculum! Back when I first taught this course (in 2005), I was just completing my textbook, and as such I followed the book’s lineup, including staffs. Later I would take the staffs out of the beginner course, because a) actors will rarely find themselves needing to know staff technique—sword are way more common; b) I was running out of time with three weapons systems crammed into 16 weeks. But now, staffs are back, and unarmed is a smaller unit.

-we will be mainly working with swords through most of the semester. After all, you add a 4-ft sword to the end of your extended arm, and you’ve magically got social distancing.

-Since the class will mainly be about swords this time, we may just break out Metro’s beautiful broadswords.

-also: lightsabers. Need I say more?

I’ll be posting in more detail about all these things in some separate posts here, in an attempt to get enrollments enough to not cancel the course. Stay tuned, and if you’re a Metro or UCD or CCD student, sign up!

⚔️🗡🦠🥊😷

Deconstruction Workers episode 4.1 (&2): academics on academia in the pandemic

Please to enjoy my latest guest appearance on the Deconstruction Workers. Part 2 coming soon! UPDATE: Part 2 is HERE! https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-deconstruction-workers/id1396862014 

https://blubrry.com/podcastdcw/57757504/s04e01-coronapocalypse-2020-part-one/

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…

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.”

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.