Jenn

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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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.)

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….

Tiamat the Destroyer

Tiamat is a dragon that’s from mythology so old she’s not really a dragon, but more of a slimy worm/reptile thing, very much like Grendel’s mother. A female, lizard-like, spawner of monsters. Her element is sludge and she will lick your ass, whether your name is Beowulf or Ahura Mazda. [edit: autocorrect changed “kick” to “lick” in that above sentence, and I have decided I will allow it.]

Of course, as anyone who knows anything about both things is well aware, when Gygax & crew constructed the elaborate role playing game known as Dungeons & Dragons in the ‘70s, t/he/y scooped up all kinds of creatures both to play as and to encounter, from ancient mythology and what I call Old Story. (And yes, of course Tolkien’s classic peoples of Elves, Dwarves, Men, and Halflings. And wizards. But where do you think the Good Don got them in the first place? Hm? Don’t @ me…)

Of course any game w dragons in the title needs must have plenty of them flying around in its world, and boy does it: Tiamat is one of the biggest baddies one can encounter in D&D. Her sex is the only thing she keeps from her ancient squidgy origins: a five headed dragon in the game, each of her heads is a different color and spews a different element, as though she’s five chromatic dragons in one. Which of course she is, kinda.

In popular play She Kills Monsters, Tiamat does indeed have five heads, but in this case it’s (SPOILERS: skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want SPOILERS) the embodiment of the five adventurers our protagonist has been journeying with.

The final fight is described by the playwright as “the most incredible fight scene in history ever to be put on a stage.” No pressure. But my work on this show over at RRCC culminates not as much with my choreography, but with an immense, phenomenal animatronic behemoth conceived & constructed by the college’s robotics department. Only two and a half of the heads, plus two wings, were complete when I trekked down there yesterday afternoon but boy did it look spectacular nonetheless. I tweaked the choreography and guided the girl who’d be fighting the thing, reassuring her the while that her assessment was correct: the audience would be looking at it, not really at her very much at all. So in this case the most epic dragon battle supposed-to-be ever is more about the machinery than the dance, and that’s just fine. It’s all art. Gorgeous art, at that.

I had a slight tangent planned about Game of Thrones and my history of watching it, not watching it, wanting to read the books and not bothering, etc. in the wake of the beginning of the end apparently broadcasting Sunday night, but ehhhh. Boobs and dragons are both things I enjoy, but wars of the roses meets soft core porn I’m just not willing to waste my all too short mortality on. I’ll get the best fight scenes shared with me, put in my two gold pieces’ worth, and that’ll be plenty. And my nerd cred remains intact, thankyouverymuchindeed…

There are a few more potent (and older) dragons I’d rather revisit. LeGuin’s intimidating dragons of Earthsea, Tolkien’s Smaug, and of course The Pearl Poet’s Mom o’ Grendel. Whoever s/t/he/y was/ere.

🐲🐉