03 November 2010

Swiped from a Facebook Comment

Sad, but true.

I linked to a fun article on Facebook, "Am I the Last Person in America Who Still Adores President Obama?" from Slate.com. A friend of mine out in IL said that she does, too, but can't talk about him around her Catholic colleagues (she works for the local diocese), because he's pro-choice.

Now, keep in mind, this issue of the single-issue has been simmering for me since about 1986 when I first watched the marches on Washington on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. So it's a little...hm. Well, maybe you'll decide for yourself what it is.

You see, I get troubled by this because, as Roman Catholics, we don't have blinders like this on a single other issue where federal or state laws conflict with canon: no one demands that IVF be banned, no one's calling for divorce to be outlawed (as it was in Ireland for YEARS because of the Catholic Church's influence), no one's calling for meat to be banned on Fridays from February to April. President Obama is the most Christian president we've had in years when you look at his social justice programs, civil rights stances, and most of his foreign policy. He wants to feed the poor, and for people to visit the imprisoned, and for there to be "neither man nor woman, neither gentile nor Jew."

Some pro-life critics say that it's a matter of magnitude, but that argument rings hollowly for me. Abortion may have the greatest magnitude, but I can't help but feel that the other issues would get at least a little time if the conflict of church vs. state laws were really all there was to it. These single-issue folks seem to be hiding behind this one issue--and it's a big issue. Plenty of room back there, especially since it was one of the first things that Protestants and Roman Catholics ever agreed on, politically. But I have a sinking feeling it's because the discomfort they feel regarding various social justice issues--women, minorities, the poor--is not something they feel comfortable talking about, especially in public.

15 June 2010


So, the British Prime Minister apologized for Bloody Sunday.

Thank you, God.

For 841 years, these two peoples have been involved in a deadly tug-of-war that has robbed them of justice, has robbed them of hope, has robbed them of basic human decency.

The survivors and the victims' families are elated, and everybody else seems to be taking the news and the apology well. Less well-taken is talk of pursuing charges against the culpable soldiers. I commented on Facebook about the healing power of a basic apology. A friend of mine commented that he prefers prosecutions.

It's that kind of thinking that has mired first the English, and then the British, and the Irish into eight hundred years of conflict.

Think about that. This all started when Diarmait Mac Murchada, the new former-king of Leinster was rather put out at having been, well, put out. It turns out it makes the High King (then Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair) pretty damn cranky when you abduct the wife of one of your brother kings. Well, he ran to Normandy, and while Henry II was too busy either sticking his wife in a tower or having the Bishop of Canterbury murdered, he introduced Mach Murchada to his man Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. In order to seal the deal, Mach Murchada's daughter Aoife married de Clare. And--and this is the kicker--Mach Murchada swore to be de Clare's man. The only dumber move in Irish history was when the Irish Parliament literally voted itself out of existence in 1800. To make an already long story short, they were extremely successful, and when Mach Murchada died his kingship passed to de Clare by the authority of Mach Murchada's oath and de Clare's position as Mach Murchada's son in law. This was so successful, several other Norman noblemen launched invasions of Connaught, Munster, and East Ulster. So eventually Henry II had to come over with a sizeable army to make sure that de Clare and the others didn't get out of line and challenge his authority, and wound up adding Ireland to his empire almost by accident.

The year was 1169. The Christian West was uniformly Roman Catholic. Astrology was still an integral part of medicine. Indoor plumbing had been lost three hundred years before, and would not return for six hundred fifty more. This is hundreds of lifetimes we're talking about. Eight hundred forty-one years of prosecution.

And what does prosecution get you?

Prosecutions, done right, yield justice. The Irish, both Protestant and Catholic, have had a bellyful of justice, at least the tit-for-tat that passes for legal justice, or the bloodier exchanges that are the justices of war. Justice does not guarantee peace. Justice does not guarantee that no more school buses get blown up. Justice is the marble idol clung to by the bitter and twisted. Justice is important, justice has its place, but prioritizing it over compassion and common sense has resulted in one of the longest running civil disputes in the world, if it doesn't actually hold that dubious title.

This does not even address prosecutions conducted ingenuously or by the corrupt, which leave both sides deeply divided and mired in anger.

The good news is that the last time there was a bombing, no one rallied around it, and there was no surge in violence. The current apprehension is all based on emotion. Put bluntly, the generation of combatants hasn't died yet, and while the problem is as fixed as it can be, and while the majority is happy with the solution, there are people out there with grudges and a really solid knowledge of how to build a bomb.

27 April 2010

Community Theatre is Not for the Weak

And Stage Management is only for those with tough hides and ice water for nerves.

But more about that later.

Actually, no theater is for the weak. Even the "easiest" roles--what I like to refer to as breathing scenery, roles such as Third Lord from the Left, Interested Onlooker #5--require that you put yourself in the public eye for apprisal and judgement. And don't get me started on supporting actors. Bless them. Bless them a million times. The leads carry the main story line, but the supporters are burdened with making the whole damn thing work.

It's an adrenaline pumping, heart wrenching, nerve wracking experience.

Working tech, on the other hand, isn't even that relaxing.

At best, no one knows you're there. At worst, boy howdy do they ever notice you. They notice that you have completely and totally screwed up your job. And the conductor of this elephant tightrope act is the Stage Manager. Soothing the actors' egos back to the point of being able to find that motivation and/or sweet spot. Being able to account for the actors' whereabouts to the director. Giving the stage crew direction. Pointing the inconvenient shadows out to the lighting designer. Patiently explaining to that one actor in every group why leaving their costume on the floor is not acceptable. And moving to not so patient when they still haven't listened by the third run of the show. Holding your breath. The character of Philip Henslowe in Shakespeare in Love really had it right. It truly is a business, the natural condition of which is, "one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster." Waiting for the manifiestation of the mystery in which it all turns out all right.

Far too many community theatres, high school productions, and even college drama departments hand out Stage Management positions as the booby prize. Ye gods, we can't cast her, but she's the only one we couldn't find a part for. Make her the stage manager. Some day, if you manage to get me very, very drunk, I may someday tell you about Ariel, The Worst Stage Manager in the History of the World. Even thinking about him makes me yearn for a shot.

Seriously, if your goal is for everyone to feel included, split a Second Lord. Add another Townsperson. Stick another tree in the forest, but for the love of Thisbe, don't make him the Stage Manager.

I was once introduced to a cast as their Den Mother. It's not far off. You patch scrapes. You wipe tears. You arrange logistics. You delegate. Aside from keeping an eye on the technical details and timing, you are the UberYenta. You are the person everyone looks to in a crisis.

Which is why you can't lose it. At least not in public. The cast and crew depend on you. The Stage Manager's purpose is to be depended upon. If the cast is afraid they'll hurt your feelings, how can they depend on you? How can they lean on someone who has shown themselves to be fragile? Please note that loud and belligerant is not the same as strong. Nasty is not the same as competent. And while crying isn't necessarily a sign of weakness per se, it does take people's minds off of what they need to do. It distracts. It takes the focus off of the show and puts it firmly on you. Which, if you are the Stage Manager, is the last place it belongs.

Please don't mistake me. I'm not saying that the people thrust into these situations aren't nice. I'm sure they're lovely people and in no way deficient as human beings. But if you're not someone who can maintain at least the illusion of strength in a crisis, then Stage Management is not for you. If you're not good with numbers, should you be an accountant? No. However, as Peter Hall, founder of the modern organization of the Royal Shakespeare Company, said, "Perhaps, therefore, ideal stage managers not only need to be calm and meticulous professionals who know their craft, but masochists who feel pride in rising above impossible odds."

11 March 2010

The Curriculum (May G-d Have Mercy on Our Souls)

A few years ago, a friend of mine asked me what percentage of teachers, in my opinion, actually liked the literature that they were teaching--Shakespeare, poetry, etc.

I said--and I continue to say--that the percentage of English teachers who actually work with or enjoy Shakespeare or poetry on their own time is very low. The kicker is--at least at the high school and community college level--is that it's very difficult to fit in what one does enjoy and is interested in because of The Curriculum. (Although I must admit that I'm very up front with my 102 students about my distaste for Romantic poets and the fact that I'm teaching Blake under protest. And don't get me started on Thomas Mallory. That hack.)

I'm lucky. I'm a medieval nerd, with a sub-dork in Chaucer. But if you really love, say Hemingway, it can be tough to fit Poppa into your lesson plans because you've got so much else to get through. And if you're into Auden or Ezra Pound, you may be sunk all together. Heck, if you love James Joyce, you may find that your material has been banned in your school district. And it's not just the 20th century guys. I adore Alexander Pope, both for his poetry and as the father of modern literary criticism, but he's becoming more obscure, and we have to find room for Toni Morrison and Chinua Achebe and Amy Tan and Richard Wright and there's just no time.

On the other hand, I think Terry Pratchett could be invaluable in a Shakespeare class. Teach Wyrd Sisters along side of Macbeth, or Lords and Ladies alongside Midsummer. Hell, I'd love to have the time and freedom to teach Witches Abroad in an intro to criticism class (hell, I'd love to teach an intro to criticism class, period, but PGCC has trouble enough filling its intro to literature classes) to examine the momentum of stories and plot and the unending cycle of the influence of narrative on reality and reality on narrative.

The root of the problem? The current trend for "practical" education. More and more schools are phasing out or otherwise generally de-emphasizing the importance of humanities classes in the core curriculum. Universities are far more interested in giving the customers students what they want (i.e., more "useful" classes and less time "wasted" on classes not directly related to their majors), as opposed to what they need to be well-rounded, adequately educated members of society. And it's a bleeding shame. I have students who haven't heard of any plays by Shakespeare that haven't been made into movies at one point or another. And while this fact itself pains me, it's their lack of loss--they don't care that they don't know--that truly disturbs me.