Chihuly Gardens and Glass: A Tribute to the One-eyed Glass God 

Hello dear reader, I am attempting to fulfill a promise of mine. To give a virtual tour of the Seattle Center.

I’m writing a more in-depth piece as we speak, but I wanted to give ya’ll a little taste.

Below is the glass house, an open conservatory with a ceiling covered in Persian (the name of the series, not Middle Easterners).

The glass house looking over the Sun

This is The Sun. Dale Chihuly loves gardens, they were his biggest and earliest influence. Just by taking a glance at his work, one would surmise that he has a love of botany. (That means flowers, guys).

The Sun, at the Center of the Gardens

That is all for now, dear reader. Check back in tomorrow for more…or else.

TRICK OR TREAT! TEDESTEN’S Candid and Hairtrigger Thoughts and HOT TAKES GALORE!

(Previously released BALLET JAMBAROO! from last year)

  1. FOLKINE’S PETROUCHKA:

“Petrouchka” opening seconds: I hate sound stages. They always look cheap and wicked fake but I did like the cinematography and the art direction here. In spite of being thoroughly creeped-out (Happy Halloween!!) from the minute I fired it up on the youtube, I soldiered through this bad boy. I thought the music went very well with the choreography. With syncopation, the music changes to match the dramatic action and the characters reactions/movements. I have to admit that it was cool when the wizard showed up and the stage went dark and he rocked a flute solo. However, the second the clown and the other two figures came to life I was out. The way the clown moved was horrifying—like a dancing version of the scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz.” Very impressive display of physical discipline and ability but I had a better reaction to the first time I saw the scene in “Elephant Man” when he takes the sack off his head. Then when the clown gets thrown into some icy purgatory, it was nowhere near as tragic as David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” pierrot music video. I’ve got no empathy for this clown. That wizard did the responsible thing by banishing him and his crooked smile to this frozen hell-scape. I’ve had anxiety-induced hallucinations that were less disturbing than his guy and his floppy arms.

What the—who’s the guy in black face playing with the coconut?! Juh?? As glad as I am to get away from that clown, how did we get to this guy and his turban and sword and coconut and his blackface? This is very Russian. Somehow, they’ve combined a minstrel show with a sexual nightmare and a sad clown and no happy ending in sight. It’s also winter and there’s a flute-wielding wizard playing fast and loose with the very lives that he himself magically instilled in this figures. And then the bear shows up and is forced to dance. Devil-gimp dance solo…? So far winning competition for best potential Halloween costume of this viewing session.

Needless to say, VERY different from Classical Ballet: clear folk influence and different dance styles for different characters. Syncopated music helps move action in all sorts of directions—it virtually replaces dialogue. As Fokine said, by the music and moves, we have a clear sense of setting (time and place). Dance and mime clearly express all dramatic action. Mime is used by the entire body as the ballet technique dictates and adds to the ballet rather than subtracts (in the case of “Petrouchka,” I’m gonna have to disagree). The corps de ballet is very present here and is more than just human pieces of set. And the final fifth point Fokine makes: he’s got a perfect marriage of all arts being used here to their maximum effect and building each other up rather than getting in each others way. This is a unified composition from the music to the dance and with that the elements are well integrated to form the dramatic narrative.

SoOoo we get to end with the wizard dragging the broken clown corpse through the snow back to his dungeon. Just when you wonder how upsetting and unresolved this ending is going to be, the boundaries of your darkest fears are stretched beyond their capacity. Thanks a bunch, flute wizard! Never trick-or-treating at this guy’s house again unless he’s passing out Klonopin. Be safe tonight, kids!

  1. ANNA PAVLOVA:

“Dying Swan.” I love the music and I love the old movie antique aesthetic. I like her white dress. It’s simple yet elegant and functional. The movement of her arms is what’s really impressive here and on top of that she’s doing this all en pointe. She’s like a top spinning around until it finally falls, which I think this a good visual metaphor for a literal, “dying swan.”

Natalia Makarova:

Makarova’s interpretation of dying swan: Very similar dress and camera work/set. I HATED he cinematography. DON’T MOVE THE CAMERA WHEN THERE’S DANCE SOLO. I worked at Emerson College for 2 years as a TV producer. I sucked. I sucked so bad, my professor—who was a professional producer who worked at NESN (New England Sports Network, which is owned by the Red Sox)—asked me if I was kidding when I told him I was a Studio TV Production Major and said I should seriously reconsider my career while there was still time. I don’t disagree with this seemingly too brutal honesty but as crappy of a producer as I was, I know what not to do with a camera on a sound stage. Don’t move it. Keep it stationary on one subject ESPECIALLY when it’s dance. This isn’t about YOU, Mr. Director! What a GLORY BOY! This is the work of a show off and it’s a distraction and completely takes away from the performance.

But besides that blast from my recent past, to me, Natalie gives me more straight-up swan here, whereas Pavlova gave me more dying—if that makes sense. I think that Pavlova’s swan impression was less swan-like than Makarova’s but she did a better job giving me the sense that she was dying. That spinning-top quality of Pavlova represented death perfectly and it was very clear she was dead at the end. Marakova’ swan could have just been exhausted. I didn’t get as much of a sense of death—her swan was so good that it seemed lively throughout. There wasn’t a display of struggle that I got from Pavlova. I really liked this. I really like seeing the gigantic difference between the two dancers interpretations. I really like the music too. Everything about this is awesome to me, and if I watched Pavlova without having to watch with a critical eye, I’d probably cry if I were in the right setting. This is beautiful and both dancers are fantastic. If I had to show ballet to someone who’d never seen it and needed to explain the importance of the dance as an art and what it can do, I would show them these two videos. I’d play “Dying Swan” at my funeral. The music reminds me of a cello version of “Clair de Lune” by Debussy.

  1. AFTERNOON OF THE FAUN: NIJINSKY

This musical intro sounds like Phantom of the Opera. I like where this is heading for the start. I love the old movie style just like in Pavlova’s “Dying Swan.” This is a lasting affectation from my “film skool” background. I’ll watch anything pre-1927. Just like D.W. Griffith said, the talkies ruined film! Al Jolson’s a GLORY BOY! DISTRACTION! That being said, again I just can’t say it enough: I love the combination of ballet with old cinema and I think it’s a perfect multi-media marriage between the two arts. I had to watch this twice. I’m not sure what exactly happened but that didn’t stop me from liking it—I’m very sure this will be a common refrain of mine when I’m old and super senile.

I love the costumes. Simple. Imply character rather than being garish. The setting is simple too. It implies woods. I do love the cinematography. This is an appropriate use of cuts and camera movements and close-ups. The woman here seems to be dressed in Hellenistic attire. Nijinsky’s movement I think is very good at showing me a faun. There are some sexual undertones but I don’t think it’s anything to shake a purity ring at. I wouldn’t say this is an innocent or chaste encounter—the lady and the faun both know what they came here to do. But I think it’s tasteful for 1912 and today.

THE NUREYEV INTERPRETATION:

Similar costumes, larger set, rocks more than forest. I like how the dancer (and Nijinsky did this too) uses his hands and feet to move like a faun. Pretty unmistakable goat-influence in this portrayal of the mythical beast. I don’t like the big set. It looks like a Led Zeppelin album cover. The 1912 smaller forest setting reminded me of Akira Kurosawa’s “RASHOMAN.” This version is overtly sexual but it doesn’t seem coercive or grotesque. If there is any controversy about the sexual poses and implications, I would say that it would reminds me of the controversy that David Bowie stirred up in his Ziggy Stardust, pan-sexual, androgynous, alien persona. The biggest uproar Bowie caused was when he pantomimed oral sex on Mick Ronson’s guitar on-stage once while Ronson was shredding a guitar solo. The fantasized sexual posturing at the end with the veil doesn’t seem as over the top to me as it could be. The trust is a pretty obvious give away as to what the faun’s got on his mind but again, I’d show my kids this and I’d be willing to bet they’d be lost WAY before anything remotely naughty happened. As a kid, I’d probably be like, “dad, why the hell are we watching this?” I don’t think it’s all that bad but I’m also a horrible judge of what’s appropriate for a general viewing audience and what isn’t. This is part of why I never made it as a big-shot TV producer.

  1. LEONIDE MASSINE: PARADE:

Massine and Picasso: successful collaboration?

First multi-media ballet. Really, these sets aren’t my favorite aspects of Picasso’s work (I’m more of a “Blue Period” kinda guy!). The costumes are interesting but in my opinion, these over-complicated costumes take away from the dance. I do love the make-up but I don’t feel like make-up ever really takes away from physical performance. I think the apparent interest in exoticism comes across as a poor-man’s, Westernized, knock-off of Kabuki theatre. If I was bankrolling this thing and I was shown this I’d say: look, either do a ballet or do a Kabuki but don’t try to do both. Also, for all those costumes and sets, for the money you had to pay haughty ol’ Picasso, you probably could’ve gotten the same stuff from Braque for WAY cheaper. I’m not impressed. This is a good example of when multi-media gets in the way of itself because rather being a cohesive, team effort it’s a showcase for two separate things that just don’t mesh well. As impressive as both arts are, why are they being forced together here? This looks like Picasso was jealous of Alexander Calder and tried to one-up him. I can only imagine the snooty review Marcel Duchamps would write about this ballet and it’s horrifying to admit to myself that I’d agree with him and his Dadaist nonsense.

  1. LOIE FULLER: LASTING IMPRESSIONS ON THE DEVELOPMENTS OF DANCE

What I thought in class was that Modern Dance is like the Fauvism of the dance arts. “…among the wild beasts!” It’s not Impressionic even though it’s all about natural expression and rejection of form and style and discipline. I think of it a lot like Matisse’s Fauvist work. You wouldn’t compare him to Monet, or even Dali or Miro; and you wouldn’t really compare him to Kandinsky. As much as I think of Fauvism here, it makes perfect sense that Modern Dance was closely tied with Art Nouveau. I love Art Nouveau. I’m a huge Gustav Klimpt fan and I love all those posters from that Belle Époque Era. I think the comparison to Modernism makes a lot of sense. Attention to style rather than function. This fits in perfectly with art from the pre-World War I era. And this is the perfect contrast and complete opposite of the Bauhaus art movement that followed WWI that was all about function and minimalism.

It’s clear how Fuller inspired many dancers and choreographers who followed her and how she helped keep the dance arts up with other art forms of the time by ripping it away from its formalist background and history. I think you could make a very compelling argument that what she did for dance helped keep it from growing dormant going into the 20th Century.

  1. ISADORA DUNCAN

I think the influence I see that she has on Fokine and Nijinsky’s work is the way in which they use natural forms and styles in their ballets. I think one obvious example to sight is Nijinsky’s “Afternoon of the Faun.” I thought that stills from that ballet could have easily come right off of an ancient Greek vase. I definitely saw Hellenistic influence in “Faun.” But more than just the Hellenistic and pastoral aesthetic that I would attribute to Isadora Duncan, I would also attribute the movements in “Faun” to Duncan as well. I think the way in which Fokine and Nijinsky add that natural movement to their ballet choreography is definitely influenced by Duncan’s ideas. Also I think that Fokine’s willingness especially to move in this direction in “Petrouchka” where he’s got peasants moving like peasants and policemen moving like policemen is a reflection of what Duncan did in her dance innovations. The clown in “Petrouchka” is a good example of this too because there are a lot of moves that the clown makes that are clearly not “ballet movements.” Fokine uses non-ballet technique to bring life to his characters and motivate his dramatic narrative and still manages to choreograph a show that is 100% ballet. When thinking about Duncan’s influence on ballet (Nijinsky and Fokine), I think the perfect compare and contrast examples would be the part of Odette in “Swan Lake” and the clown in “Petrouchka.” Petipa and Ivanov used formal ballet technique to create the character of the swan whereas Fokine used that rag-doll-like effect to represent his clown. The same can be said of Nijinsky’s Faun’s movements.

INFLUENCE ON FERRI’S DANCE (in her interpretation of the music)

Oh my god when she steps on her foot—that was the definition of GNARLY.

The cinematography here was a gigantic improvement over some of the previous videos (and I liked the abandoned warehouse set). I liked this a lot. I think the minimalism really made it possible for her to showcase her movement in a way that Duncan would describe as, “a celebration of the human body.” Also the music choice and arrangement of the music was important: Bach didn’t intend for this suite to be danced to when he wrote it. Ferri’s dancing was a reaction to music, which gave it that quality of freedom and naturalness.

This interpretation and reaction to music I think is the focus of her overall artistic expression; which is to say showcasing the body itself. This dance is much more free than “Swan Lake.” This was a perfect and beautiful choreographic blend of natural and free movements along with her artistry as a ballerina and pointe technique. I was very concerned going into this that somehow Sting would make this whole thing unwatchable because in recent years the man has become increasingly insufferable in his efforts to demonstrate how multi-talented he is and how far-reaching his artistic interests range. I give credit to Sting for not being his usual, distracting, GLORY BOY self. Ferri is pretty amazing.

  1. RUTH ST. DENIS and TED SHAWN’S CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF DANCE:

I really liked the interview with St. Denis and I thought she seemed like a really interesting historical figure and artist. Not only that but she also seemed like the brains and passion behind this operation. I’m not saying I think Ted Shawn is some kind of stooge or scrub but the man-dance video did not show me a lot of grit. I think Ruth St. Denis is the real artist and philosopher here. What she talks about in her interview is philosophically ages ahead of her time. Modern Ethics (from the last 50 years up today) is all based on the same ideas that St. Denis presents about the singularity of the human experience. James Rachels’ and Martha Nussbaum (two very important modern philosophers and ethicists) have based all of their ideas on the fact that all humans are the same and that the “oneness” of humanity cannot be denied and that any and all denial of this fact is where we as humans go astray.

I think it’s obvious that St. Denis was clearly addresses the dawn of the Modern Era when she talks about the increasingly automated world and how we mustn’t let ourselves get too far away from our true selves because we cannot deny our nature and in spite of all our technological advancements, we are natural beings.

I don’t know a lot about the history of dance or the essence of the art itself but what St. Denis said made me feel like I could understand dance and that because I am human I already have this inherent understanding of dance. This is a revolutionary theory on dance. It appears to me that St. Denis (and Shawn) made it their goal to make dance an accessible art form to all people and secondly, to validate all forms of dance as part of the collective of the art form. It seems like they went beyond Duncan’s ideas about form and made a point to show the world that anybody could dance and that dance in all forms was art.

St. Denis saw dance as a universal language. To her it was a way by which we as humans could all communicate with one another. I think this was a very important philosophy especially in the Age of Industry. We are humans, not machines. For its time this proactive message is revolutionary and today I think it has proved itself to be timeless. Through dance, we acknowledge the universality of true human nature and thus by this active acknowledgement through artistic expression we do not wait for the world to be better but instead help in making it better.

To me, the exotic themes of their work are a demonstration of how every culture around the world has dance and that all dance is art. I also think that being Americans and bringing this idea about accessibility to America was extremely important in our own cultural development. They were founding members of the American dance movement and gave us a school of thought and artistic expression that had a truly American identity.

I’ve come away feeling very positively about the future and thinking about what’s going on here with dance. I think Ruth St. Denis’ ideas are very inspirational and it’s life affirming to hear an artist speak about their art and their philosophy without an air of pretention. Her message goes beyond dance and art itself and it reminds us why we do what we do in the first place. This is a message of hope. Just when you think you’ve lost yourself walking on the edge of sanity completely, you can always dance your way back. It is an affirmation of a truth about life that we forget far too often: in spite how it all may seem, all can never really be lost.

A Young Actor Doing Hamlet Badly

When I was in sixth grade we read “Hamlet” and put on an in-class production of the abridged version of the play. I played Hamlet. I was eleven years old and even at that tender age I was very aware that I did not do a good job. At that point, I had only just recently conquered my old foe: illiteracy. I took painstaking effort to learn all of my lines. The way my English teacher had us audition was by having everybody in the class read the famous, “To be or not to be speech” out loud and then everyone got to vote on who they wanted to see play Hamlet. I ended up landing the lead role by reading the famous speech in a British accent and being way over the top, which of course everyone thought was hilarious. I desecrated what is most likely the most well known dramatic soliloquy in all Western Theatre and possibly the world. And with that inauspicious beginning, I proceed to absolutely butcher William Shakespeare’s masterpiece.

It’s almost inconceivable to imagine an eleven-year-old kid mailing in a performance so half-assed that it would put Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole’s drunkest onstage antics to downright shame. I consciously put in a horrible effort. I tanked the show. I mumbled through all my lines in my crappy British accent as fast as I could possibly say them. I was the most apathetic and disinterested Hamlet of all time. I barely moved on stage. Imagine if you will a completely detached, disinterested, and frosty Hamlet just going about his business. My Hamlet shuffled aimlessly through Elsinore Castle without batting an eye or giving second thought to a damn thing. My Hamlet was the coolest without the slightest display of anything that could even have the outside chance of being mistaken for a real human emotion. My Hamlet approached life in the terrifyingly all too casual way that professional murders do. When I killed Polonius, it was epically cold. “Dead for a ducat…dead…” I did that line so matter-of-factly it completely summed up my eleven-year-old analysis of the character: just an emotionless, surly, and sarcastic sociopath. I was history’s saddest, most withdrawn Hamlet of all time.

When we were done with our study of “Hamlet”, I could tell that I had let down my whole English class. They expected me to lead an absolutely disrespectful and gloriously insipid and juvenile romp through this great tragedy. I chose instead to be just plain bad. Nobody ever said anything to me about it but I could tell everyone was kind of miffed that I didn’t make it funny. I didn’t make fun of “Hamlet” like I did in my “To be or not to be” audition. I didn’t just do a bad job on purpose for the sake of saving my participation grade. I did a bad job because I realized something very important as an actor while I was killing myself over learning all those damn lines: you cannot keep up your eccentric and idiotic shtick if you’re going to be onstage for the vast majority of the play. The lead actor can’t just hit the same button and expect the same laughs and keep his audience interested. Being one-noted and going for cheap laughs is so much worse than just being boring and awful. Trying too hard is a grievous error especially when you are purposefully going out of your way to make the worse acting choice possible. In this case, the choice was between mocking “Hamlet” and killing a bad joke over and over and over again or mailing it in and trying to get through it as quickly and relatively painlessly as possible.

“Hamlet” the play itself is all about choices and specifically in the “To be or not to be” speech it is about the thought process and motivation for making those choices. I learned an invaluable lesson in that class as an aspiring actor, entertainer, and performer about making choices. An eleven-year-old is in way over is head when he takes on the role of “Hamlet” but I also think every actor needs to approach the role the same way in which I was forced to approach it. An actor really has to decide whether or not they really can be Hamlet. Had I realized this earlier, I would have tanked my audition to guarantee myself a nice and easy spot as Bernardo or one of the other guards. No heavy lifting. Just get really scared when the ghost spooks you! I could’ve even gotten away with being a subversive and distracting Bernardo and gotten my precious laughs. But this was not the case. My sixth grade English teacher was on to something by conducting the auditions in the way that she did by making everybody have to really dedicate some time to reading and interpreting the “To be or not to be” speech. That speech will make or break a Hamlet. To a lot of people, that speech is “Hamlet.” That speech is all that some people even know about Shakespeare. If you can’t figure out as an actor how you want to do that soliloquy then you should seriously consider backing down and giving up on the role because not only is it extremely well known and highly regarded culturally, but it really is integral to the character and the play itself. This play is cerebral.

I have to admit that “Hamlet” is not my favorite of Shakespeare’s work. At the risk of sounding like an unrefined contrarian, I do not like “Hamlet.” I don’t just dislike “Hamlet” because of how it devastated any shred of confidence my dopey sixth grade self had, but there’s something about the title character that did not resonate with me then and continues not to resonate with me today. My issues have evolved as I’ve gotten older and more learned, however my core issues with Hamlet remain.

I’ve never liked the character in any capacity. Even in sixth grade I thought he was whiny and too often insufferable. Every time I’ve read it since, it always strikes me at some point that Hamlet is also thirty-three years old. That is pretty old to be so disagreeable and cantankerous. The argument everyone likes to ponder about Hamlet is whether or not he is pretending to be insane. Because of the way I feel about him, I feel like if he has gone insane then he’s soft and my inner, super, hardcore, West Texas High School football coach says that he should nut-up and be a man and quit moping like a punk. He’s thirty-three for god sakes. Jesus was thirty-three when he got tacked up and he didn’t whine about it! And according to Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ” ol’ Jesus took quite a beating.

Speaking of Mel Gibson, I like his Hamlet the best because he’s a psycho and clearly wants to do something funky to his mom. I thought Kenneth Branagh was terrible. He was just weird. To me, it’s almost like Branagh is too intelligent to play such a hotheaded man-child. Gibson actually is a crazy person in real life and is possibly the greatest rage-oholic of his generation. To the horror of every educated person I’ve ever discussed this with, I’m not afraid to admit Mel Gibson is my favorite Hamlet.

So then there’s also the case that Hamlet is simply acting insane to get his revenge on King-Uncle-Father Claudius. Little more than kin and less than kind! I have way less empathy for Hamlet if this is his plan to get revenge. It’s objectively stupid as evidenced by absolutely everybody winding up dead by the end of the play. Could things have possibly gone worse? No, definitely not. My inner red-state high school football coach says Hamlet’s a grown-ass man and this is just idiotic behavior. It’s distracting and achieves nothing. Hamlet’s acting like a rookie. Thirty-three years old and he’s playing pretend and gambling with peoples’ very lives? That’s a little old to be pouting and playing pretend to get your way.

All of that said, by the time I’ve gotten to Act 3 Scene 1, I’m just waiting for Fortinbras to come in like a boss and smite all these chumps. But my personal opinions and my feelings are beside my point. I feel like Hamlet is the most difficult role for an actor in all theatre because it is the ultimate role in all theatre. Everybody knows it even if they haven’t read it. It’s like the “Casablanca” of theatre in a way; it is the origin of all the clichés that came after it. But what’s strange about the play and the role is that it is so cerebral and such a fascinating and in-depth study of the human psyche that it requires not just a good actor but also a smart actor.

I think if there were any actor who I’d actually cast as Hamlet it would have been Toshiro Mifune—who I think is the Japanese Marlon Brando—or I would have cast Tupac Shakur. Both of those actors to me are explosive and I’ve seen them in roles where they are convincingly blind with rage and still compelling and sympathetic. I would not cast Brando as Hamlet. Brando is very good at portraying a character who struggles with their own vulnerability but he is too laconic to be Hamlet. Hamlet is verbose. The man is wordy. Brando is anything but wordy. I think Tupac would have been a great Hamlet because when you listen to his music you hear a man express his inner pain yet try to hide behind his carefully crafted façade of masculinity and strength. Tupac was also a verbose man and easily one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. I would fight anybody and to death if they argued with me that Tupac wasn’t top ten poets of the twentieth century. Now that is something I’d rage about. Getting revenge for my dad’s ghost? I’d be hard pressed to find it in me to muster up some kind of motivation toward seeking vengeance.

I can’t put myself in Hamlet’s shoes. I couldn’t back in sixth grade, and I can’t do it now. I think, interestingly, that one thing that makes me think that Tupac would have made such a great Hamlet was because he never lived to be thirty-three years old. Tupac was murdered when he was only twenty-five. That’s insanely young considering how much art he was able to produce both in film and in music. Tupac had the fury of a young, hotheaded man. Tupac was also a classically trained actor who attended Baltimore School for the Arts where he actually performed some of Shakespeare’s plays. I think he could play Hamlet either way too. He could play truly insane Hamlet or he could play a calculating Hamlet and be convincing as either. I think this is a valuable opinion as a man who has absolutely no love for the role or the play. I would kill to have seen Tupac as Hamlet and I think there are a lot of people out there who would agree with me. Check him out as the character Bishop in the movie, “Juice.” The man would have been the greatest Hamlet of all time.

I respect William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” as a great tragedy but I do not enjoy it. I think it’s overdone. When I first read it ten years ago, I had very high expectations going in and I came out very disappointed. I was only eleven years old and just barely literate and even I had some preconceived ideas about what “Hamlet” was all about. Everybody knows “Hamlet.” That’s a big part of why I’d say it’s a difficult role to play. Everybody sees it differently and everyone has their own vision of Hamlet. I would prove this point by challenging any actor to use “To be or not to be” as their core audition piece for any audition they go to. Nobody who wants a job in theatre would even dare to do that. That takes either some monumental irrational confidence and audacity, or actual insanity. Furthermore, in that soliloquy alone, how do you recite lines that everybody knows by heart and make them sound like your own? How do you make that speech sound new to people who have heard it a billion times or more? I argue it’s got to be the most difficult task in all of theatre. Back when Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole were doing it, Burton would just leave the speech out completely when he was playing Hamlet. Although Burton probably left it out because he was drunk and just wanted to irritate people, I can totally see why an actor would make the choice to go ahead and skip it for the sake of their overall performance.

An actor can either do it or he can’t. That might be the only two kinds of actors there are: those who can be, and those who cannot be Hamlet. “To be or not to be” really is not only the starting place for approaching this role but also it is the question. Do you have what it takes to be Hamlet? If you end up accidently landing the role of Hamlet and realize to your own horror half way through learning your lines that you have absolutely no business playing Hamlet, then all you can do is pray to your maker that your sixth grade English teacher will not force you to go through with it. My participation grade in our sixth grade rendition of “Hamlet” ended up being a “B-minus.” That’s probably the most generous review I’ll ever get in the aftermath of a performance that was nothing short of a horrible failure. In retrospect, that totally unearned “B-minus” was actually my teacher thanking me for not making an utter fool of myself for the sake of petty laughs trying to make “Hamlet” into a comedy. Don’t make “Hamlet” into a comedy. To this day, I think I owe the bright future of my career to making the unprecedentedly wise choice as a young actor not to do that. As a young actor who did Hamlet badly, the lesson here is this: when in doubt, save yourself the slings and arrows and sea of troubles and instead do the wise thing and choose not to be.

Who Pays Death and Does He Take Checks?

Last night I made a ramshackled and abortive effort to turn my bedroom into what was supposed to be a cross between an Edwardian style tearoom and an opium den with my treasured, bamboo-handled teapot, Lebanese Hookah and my most recent extravagant purchase: my imported, Al Fakher mango and molasses shisha fresh from the United Arab Emirates. No doubt slave labor was used to harvest my shisha, but if it’s all good with the International Olympic Committee and the International Federal Football Association—otherwise known as, “FIFA”—then who am I, a citizen of the post-Golden Age, Anarcho-Capitalist, Neo-Roman Empire, United States of America to raise a haughty eyebrow? I wasn’t building my own Edwardian opium den to make a social statement (and I think I can say with some certainty that nobody has built their own opium den of any fashion with the intention of making a social statement or just good intentions in general), I just wanted to have my own private tea party and smoke in my house without my mom catching me. Shortly after the construction process was over and my glorified pillow fort was complete, everything that could have possibly gone wrong immediately went wrong.

The fire alarm went off several times while I was trying to sit back in my favorite hourglass armchair—one with those broad backs and no arms. I like the design because I can sit and play guitar without any armrests getting in the way of my monster solos. But don’t let me be mistaken for an hourglass-loyalist, I grew up in a family that has been in the antiques trade since we buried all of our silver during the French and Indian War and I do love me a good old fashion wingback armchair. I think it’s in my Puritan DNA to not only like but also to go so far as to prefer to fall sleep sitting straight up in a wingback armchair. Comfort be damned! Only a dirty, unhousebroken Papist would fall asleep lying on the horsehair couch in the middle of the parlour! How gauche.

Somewhere in between setting my bed on fire and shouting frantic apologies to my mother—who came home from work way earlier than she usually does—over the screams of every fire alarm in the house, I figured out what I wanted to explore in my final paper: DEATH!

Death, personified as a character, has always fascinated me. I imagine him as a tiny grim reaper with a jovial skull for a face; or at least as jovial as a skull can be. He’s got on a tiny black robe with a pointy hood and little skeleton hands in which he holds his comically oversized scythe. Since I was very young I’ve always loved to draw and color. I’m a doodler, as John Lennon once put it. I’ve always loved drawing comics and to this day I write, draw, create my own comic books. I was 13-years-old I came up with this funny comic book version of Death. I imagined him to have the comical demeanor of an ex-cop: jaded and bored with clocking in his crumby hours, century after century and fighting with fools who try to cut deals with him. I thought, man, if Death were a real guy, he’d probably be so sick of people challenging him to chess. I bet Death looks at his watch and impatiently taps his foot while he rolls his eyes every time some pseudo-intellectual melodramatically coughs up his excruciatingly contrived last words. And yet in the Judeo-Christian tradition, Satan is the one who is supposedly punished by being kicked out of paradise. Not even Satan has to deal with the monotony that Death does. Satan gets to do cool stuff. In “Dr. Faustus” Satan shows up in Faustus’ study with his friends Mephistopheles and Beelzebub. Satan not only gets to have friends, he gets to be Lucifer, King of Hell. Satan has dedicated fans like Ozzy Osbourne and sweet AC/DC songs to jam to on his throne in the Inferno. Nobody is a fan of Death. Only crazy people worship Death. At best, many cultures have a healthy respect for the man—I imagine him as a man because symbolically in contrast to men, women give life so it makes sense that the job of taking away life would be a done by a man but this is just my own personal characterization of Death. Interestingly though, in the Hindu tradition the female goddess Kali is the goddess of Death. In Hinduism, Kali is respected and worshiped as the Goddess of Death and there are even factions of the religion who are devoted followers of Kali specifically. But Western Society is based so heavily in the Judeo-Christian tradition that our relationship with Death is much more timid than in Eastern Society and other world cultures.

I had a history professor once who explained to me that Western Civilization is based on Greek Philosophy, Roman Law, and the Judaic tradition of Monotheism, which is the inspiration for the big three Abrahamic Religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In my own existential interpretation, I’ve come to think of life being defined by death because without death, then we probably would not have a word for life. Aristotle describes humans as, “featherless bipeds” but he said that we were much more than that because unlike all other animals we had cognition and the ability of conceptualized thinking. Immanuel Kant described humans as, “rational agents.” To put this into the context of my paper: unlike animals, humanity has this ability as rational agents to understand the concept of death in complex ways. Our study of death, if you will, goes well beyond philosophy, science and religion. Humanity’s complex relationship with death quite often is the subject of art and in particular it could be argued, makes its way into the majority of theatre because it is the eternal conflict. In man’s own dramatic narrative, Death is the ultimate antagonist. Whether or not he is manifested onstage, Death is still very much present. Everyone could survive at the end of a play and yet death could still be a threatening influence on the characters actions. Nobody dies in Aphra Behn’s, “The Rover” and yet Death is still a factor in the drama. When considering her father’s wish that she marry old man Don Vicentio, Florinda and Hellena pros and cons and one of the big pros is that he’ll inevitably die shortly after the marriage so the pain of being married to an old man will not last all that long. This seems a superior alternative to marrying Don Antonio who is young, strong, and unlikely to die anytime in the near future. In all artistic mediums, man wrestles with his mortality. This is a common theme in Western theatre. In theatre, we are able to personify death and turn the concept of death into a character and on stage we try to come to terms with Death and how it relates to us as individuals living in Western Society through the lens of Judeo-Christian tradition.

I think that the reason why “Everyman” is an important play to teach is because it is my opinion that the device of the personification and characterization of concepts is utilized most effectively in theatre more so than in any other artistic medium. In the simplest of arguments, theatre is a medium in which an audience sits and watches real humans in real time perform. This is in complete contrast to film in which the audience is completely separated from the action that is taking place on the screen. When an audience sees a play like “Everyman” in which Death is a character and engages in dialogue with another character, the dramatic tension is much higher in a live performance rather than presented on a screen. The audience is literally in the room with Death.

Once film was mastered and became an artistic medium around the turn of the century, the purpose of film was to bring to the audience a reality that was not their own. Early films were silent and thus relied on visual spectacle. Film was supposed to be magic brought to life on screen. Every nerdy nerd film student knows Georges Mêlées’ 1902 film “A Trip to the Moon” in which a bunch of wizards build a rocket and go to the moon and slaughter all these aliens with their umbrellas. Sensationalism was the name of the game before the French New Wave started the trend of realism in the 1960’s. Every film student is drawn to film because film offers one the ability to create a world that is unhindered by reality. Writing be damned! Everybody set your phasers to kill and let’s go blow up the Death Star! In stark contrast, the world of theatre, including musicals, exists very much in the limitations of reality and it is the reflections on everyday life that still draws us to the theatre in an age when literally anything is possible in the cinema. It is because anything is possible in film that the power of having Death as a character is greatly lessened. To this day, theatre is the best medium in which to personify concepts.

I have always wanted to write a play in which Death was a character. I’ve even written some rough drafts that were about Death’s relationship to Satan and God. I’ve always wondered, “Who pays Death?” Who is Death working for? Death is a much more mysterious character than Satan if we are talking about the two in the terms of Judeo-Christian reality. I find Satan infuriating. Lucifer was kicked out of paradise and now he collects the souls of those who are unworthy of eternity in paradise. For the consideration of this paper, I will pretend that I am satisfied with Marlowe’s ideas about Satan that he expresses in Faust. Faustus asks Mephistopheles, “What good will my soul do thy good lord?” And Mephistopheles answers, “Enlarge his kingdom…Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris.” It is a comfort to the wretched to have companions in their sorrows; i.e., misery loves company. For the sake of keeping this paper under a billion pages long, I am willing to accept this interpretation of Satan’s intentions. As Nietzsche put it, “In heaven, all the interesting people are missing.” Combine that with Nietzsche’s other famous quote, “Gott ist tot,” and we’re talking about paradise being one pitifully unexciting and downright boring place. And around the same time that Everyman and Faustus were published, Machiavelli said, “In hell I shall enjoy the company of popes, kings and princes, but in heaven there are only beggars, monks, hermits and apostles.” From an actor’s perspective, what thinking about Death has made me realize is that if we can make an anthropological case study of the Christian and Jewish cultural relationship with Death, then we can also apply the same questions to any character we may play.

Playing Duvid in “A Shayna Maidel” I spent a lot of time thinking about Duvid’s background as a devout Jewish young man. It was difficult to find a place to start because I am French Huguenot: the greatest cowards, traitors, and deserters in history. To Papists and Witch Burning Puritans alike: we’re the scum of the Earth. The French Huguenots are the ultimate foil to the Jewish people as far as persecuted European minorities are concerned. My family ran the hell away from every corner of Europe and the Colonies long before anybody even had the chance to politely ask us to leave. My family changed our name, religion, and citizenship, as many times as possible before ultimately fleeing at the first whiff of persecution where ever we happened to be pretending to be invisible at the time. The Esten family spinelessly slunk our way out of Alsace-Lorraine, Holland, England, The Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Rhode Island, all out of our insane fear of death, which is healthily practiced to this day. The unofficial family motto is, “Leave before you get stabbed. Nothing is worth dying for and if one of these violent psychos is right and it turns out that there is a God, keep your fingers crossed at the gates and hope that St. Peter’s a soft grader.” I’m sure it sounds way more majestic in Latin. As cowardly as our family M.O. is, it has brought us nothing but success in the New World. This decade, the Estens celebrate 400 years of paying other people—mostly the Irish—to fight in our place in every war ever fought for the glory America! Our cowardice has been nothing short of rewarding: the average life span of an Esten is just shy of a full 100 years. One may call it cowardice. I call it integrity! Five centuries of unbroken dedication to self-preservation. If that isn’t integrity, then I don’t know the meaning of the word. I like to imagine that one of my ancestors—most likely some dumb Alsatian dirt farmer named Francoise Van Der Von Schnitzelwolf Di’Este—once upon a time said to himself, “Martyrdom is stupid. I’m not dying a city called ‘Worms’!” Thus sealing our fate as Europe’s most elusive undesirables. And so, with my DNA consisting of believing in absolutely nothing and having a ridiculously over the top fear of death I asked myself, “what is Duvid’s relationship with death? And how does it change throughout the play?”

At first I thought I had nothing in common with Duvid on the surface so I started big: we were both mortal. “What is his relationship with Death? And how does that relationship change?” I thought that the answer to these two questions were essential to my portrayal of the character and understanding of Duvid from a deeper psychological perspective. I had never thought about this before when playing other characters but it seemed like a great actor question that was applicable and pertinent to approaching and analyzing any character one might play. What is any character’s relationship with Death and how does it change and how does this potential change affect their behavior and psychology and interactions with other characters? It seems to me like a great place to start because the question applies to all characters in all plays. Even immortal characters. If I were to play Dionysus in The Bacchae, I would take the time to consider what it would be like to be unencumbered by Death. How does being immortal affect the psyche of a God? Immortality is what ultimately sets man apart from Gods. I think that a character’s relationship with death is integral to who the character is. Duvid was a young, devout, Jewish man. His fearless approach to life was what struck me upon my first reading. I wondered, where does this fearlessness in the face of certain annihilation come from? I started studying Judaism. I learned that Duvid wasn’t preoccupied with getting into heaven or staying out or Hell. Whereas in contrast, a similarly devout young Polish Catholic man during this time period would have been defined by these preoccupations. In discovering what Duvid thought about Death, I also found the place from which he got his confidence: the courage of his convictions. Duvid would’ve felt close to God while living and known that—according to the Talmud—that sooner or later after death his soul would find a place in God’s presence in The World To Come. Duvid would have believed as a conservative Jewish man that this life was the most important and the goal was “Tikkun,” to leave this physical world a better place than you found it. The point of this life wasn’t to dodge Death for as long as possible and try to con your way out of damnation and into heaven like Everyman does. Also, Duvid knew he wasn’t going to Hell. Hell for a conservative Jewish man would’ve been a place reserved for only the evilest and malicious of monsters. My own personal dumb-ass interpretation was that everybody, including gentiles, dies and makes it to the Garden of Paradise. That’s a way better deal than Christianity. It was very important as an actor to understand that this was the axis around which Duvid’s reality spun. Duvid’s relationship with Death being characterized as simply a natural and inevitable part of life helped me get inside his head. And the second question I had ended up answering itself, “How does Duvid manage to survive?” To me, Duvid doesn’t survive because he’s physically strong and possesses above average intelligence. Duvid survives because this life is all he has. Nothing is stronger than his love for Lusia because she brings life to his faith. Her love takes his beliefs and turns them into realities. Her love, tied together with his faith, transcends belief itself and that’s where he gets not only his confidence but also his will to survive. Duvid survives because of the courage of his convictions and the way Lusia’s love strengthens his faith in the promises and beauty of this life. I imagine that Duvid never felt far from God or any less full of life even when he was face to face with death. He knew Lusia was alive and he was determined to see her again in this life. As long as he had her love in his heart Death was not going to stop him.

Duvid is the complete opposite of that buffoon Everyman. Everyman never even considers that Death will ever come for him and spends his life basking in raw hedonism. And then, all of the sudden, when Death comes to get him, Everyman is very, very certain that his ass is going straight to Hell. He knows this is not good. This is where I would normally go head first into a rant that would put Karl Marx to shame demonizing Christianity for fear mongering, and teaching people to spend this life in terror of dying and earning yourself an eternity as Satan’s passion puppet rather than, in contrast, the way in which the Chosen People of the Jewish persuasion are taught to enjoy this life and do good deeds just because this life is all we really have and don’t get all worked up over death because it’s coming no matter what and nobody’s going to Hell so don’t waste your time getting all worked up. Everyman get’s all worked up. If he doesn’t scramble, he’s looking at one long eternity face down on Satan’s favorite beanbag chair waiting for some scorching hot love squeezings.

Scorching hot love squeezings aside, this is beside the point. Last night, I went to bed just like how I imagine the vast majority of the world went to bed last night: disappointed that my pillow fort opium den tea party got debacled, and reeking of curry and cigarettes. It’s rare sometimes for someone like me to have a moment where I feel like a regular person. As an actor, I like to think I’m way more important than I really am and I actively avoid normalcy. But it dawned on me as I fell asleep that what unites all of us is that we all have some awareness of our own mortality. We all have a relationship with death. Whether or not art imitates life or life imitates art, art is produced by mortal men and our mortal reality is imbued in the characters and worlds that we create. This class has challenged me to think in ways I’ve never before been challenged. I learned very much and I was quite entertained. If I were asked what I learned this semester in this class as it relates to my pursuit of a career on stage I would say this: I’ve spent a lot of my time before this class wondering how I ought to approach every character I play. I wondered, “where or what is my neutral self?” Most actors know where their zero or neutral zone is and build from there to create a character but I have never been able to find myself neutral in any sense of the word. Rather than stupidly wasting my time trying to find out how to get to a neutral state, I found something better than that in this class and something that works best for me. I learned where to start. I have realized that every character has a relationship with death. My job as an actor is to find out what that relationship is and how it changes from the beginning of the action to the denouement. From now on, I will always start with this question. With this new trick, I now feel much more confident that I could play any role I wanted. Any role, that is, except for Hamlet. But just like realizing my own mortality, I’ll just chalk it up to awareness of my own limitations as a featherless biped.

BALLET JAMBAROO! Your Humble Fine Arts Correspondent

  1. Agnes De Mille on “Oklahoma”

I think that the choice of using the ballet in the middle of the musical “Oklahoma” made sense in the way that Agnes De Mille explains it. Agnes De Mille describes this very common plot device in the story: a girl must choose between two lovers and in the non-verbal ballet she makes her decision. This sort of plot device is executed in many ballets without words. I thought about “Giselle” here and how much the ballet in “Oklahoma” had in common with it. Two men competing for a woman’s love. I think that the ballet works well to show that Laurie is afraid of Jud and is in love with Curly. If one was going to throw in a ballet routine into a musical to develop the characters and story through movement alone without spoken words or songs, this is the perfect opportunity to use ballet. I think it was well used by De Mille.

  1. “Lilac Garden”

Now this is my kind of ballet: a practice in the elegance and beauty of simplicity. I love the set: dark blue with just a moon, and the costumes: highly functional and they indicate character without being overt or obvious. When I think of the Edwardian Era, I think of FROSTINESS and a post-Victorian England that was a wee bit too much in favor of Prussia’s haughty Kaiser, Nephew Willy II. I love the violin solo to go along with the woman’s solo. The music combined with the dancing conveys the character’s emotion very well and also helps clarify who she is, whom she has feelings for, and what exactly those feelings are. I think that the music and dancing combine to show us the innermost feelings of the characters that would otherwise never ever be expressed in such a repressive society. I like that there is no use of mime. There are gestures but I feel like mime would take away from this performance, which to me is all about expression of repressed or hidden emotion. Mime is too paradoxically obvious and yet somehow cannot fully convey deeper emotions and feelings. Perfect combination of music and dance.

From the music, I got a lot of the emotion and from the dance I got a lot of the dramatic narrative. During one of the duets I understood that these two dancers were the lovers saying goodbye. Apart from the glaring absence of lilacs, I thought the plot was very easy to follow and I enjoyed in thoroughly despite having a red-hot prejudice against English Gardens—if there is one thing that defines TEDESTEN, it is his violent and passionate preference of French Gardens over English Gardens. My brother—an Oxford man—prefers English gardens because he’s a barbarian. One time when we were in Seville, Spain on a jaunt about the Parque de Maria Luisa we got into a heated dispute over which was superior: French or English Gardens. I sought to end the argument by relieving myself Jim Morrison-style in the section of the El Parque that was arranged in the fashion of an English Garden. This depraved act led to a full-blown fistfight. I lost badly and ripped my favorite shirt in the scuffle. The lesson I learned here was that you should not conduct yourself like Ernest Hemingway when you visit Spain no matter how badly you want to be the sophisticated manly-man FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS!

  1. BALANCHINE’S NEO-CLASSICAL STYLE

TCHAIKOVSKY:

Attention to technique and discipline. Focus is more on the female dancer. There are conventional ballet movements used throughout. There is no mime. The set and costumes are minimal. Any sort of dramatic narrative is unapparent and beside the point. The focus is the dancers themselves. There is an impressive male solo and an impressive female solo. This is really straight-up, textbook, pas de deux.

I like this because characters and plots aren’t being forced upon me. There is a nice intellectual reprieve here. I can just sit back and enjoy the dance and music and be impressed with what’s going on without being bombarded with things like mime and tawdry costumery.

I would describe my viewing experience of this Tchaikovsky/Balanchine’s Pas De Deux as “refreshingly mindless”—and I mean that in the very best way possible. I don’t have to strain my little grey cells and force out some half-baked musings on whether or not the movement and music is conveying diddly-doo. It’s like turning on a great Mexican Futbol League Championship game and not knowing any of the players or news stories from behind the scenes leading up to this epic face-off. This is just unencumbered great stuff to watch. You know a good soccer game when you see one and you know a good ballet when you see one. You don’t need to know what the teams are or what’s going on. Just take in the experience and enjoy these peoples’ physical talents.

STRAVINSKY:

Ohhhhh Stravinsky…how you irk me… “Agon” means, “Contest” in Greek. The contest here is TEDESTEN vs. the CLOCK: how long I can go before I need a Klonopin. There’s four guys in some hideous costumes—soon to be joined by a bunch of ladies in totally awesome costumes. I do like that the sets and that costumes are simple but Jesus H. Christ: white shirts, black pants, and white shoes???? What the hell is that!!??? These guys look like schmucks. This look is only expectable if you’re waiting for a school bus to take you to your JAMES DEAN SUPER-KEWL HOLLYWOOD HIGH SKOOL in 1956 and it’s just too damn hot outside to be rockin’ that slick leather jacket of yours. I wear the non-spandex version of this when I’m trying to dress like a “normal” person. Underwhelming. HATE IT.

This is a perfect example of NOT being, “refreshingly mindless.” This is, in fact, the exact opposite of what I meant when I was describing the Tchaikovsky/Balanchine Pas De Deux. There’s a bunch of dancers and a bunch of music and even though you aren’t having a dramatic narrative with some characters all up in your grill, you end up just begging for some of that with Stravinsky. The music just goes in so many different directions that it loses my interest almost immediately because it’s always instantly apparent that it’s not going anywhere. Without a narrative to keep things cohesive, it’s just boring and it cannot hold my attention. It’s difficult to follow along and without structure an impartial audience quits immediately.

As far as the choreography goes it’s clearly a break from the hardcore, technical conventions of ballet technique but I would make the argument that the boundaries here are more than bent; they are broken. When you break from structure of any artistic medium, you run the risk of losing your audience. I would sight how inaccessible a lot of Marcel Duchamp’s work is and the vast majority of all Dadaist work. The movements are more natural, I’d use the word “flowy”, and I’d say as a whole they are “free” reactions to the music. Do the free and natural movements and deviation from conventional ballet technique work with the music? Yes, I would say they do because of the nature of Stravinsky’s work regardless of my feelings toward it. But as well as the choreography and music “work” together, I just think this is a break from structure that I don’t think even tries to, “EXPLORE THE BOUNDARIES OF BALLET AS AN ART IN AN AVANT-GARDE WAY, MAN!”

I think it’s inaccessible in the way sometimes jazz can be inaccessible. I like a lot of weird music. I like art-rock. I like shoe-gazer music even though I’m not the kinda guy you’ll ever catch candy-flippin’. But when it comes to a lot of jazz it’s a lot of music that’s for musicians—specifically for other jazz musicians. Maybe if I knew more about ballet I’d be down with this Neo-Classical style but I can’t even pretend that I can handle it. HOT TAKE ALERT!! : I think that Kanye West’s latest album, “YEEZUS” puts Stravinsky to shame. Neoclassical, dissidence, juxtaposition, sudden, unexpected, (read: unwanted), and unanticipated changes/whatever-interpolation-style music doesn’t have to be jarring to listen to. “YEEZUS” is an artist masterpiece where keys and time signatures are completely disregarded and a dramatic narrative is successfully and cohesively apparent throughout the album. I would start a fistfight in an English Garden in an instant if some self-aggrandizing dudebro proclaimed that Stravinsky was a superior composer to Kanye West. I’d win that fight and then pee on his Stravinsky gym mixtape just to rub it in. Stravinsky can eat a bag of ripped peat moss.

  1. MARTHA GRAHAM

I like her monologue about the dressing room. Sort of a Virginia Woolf, “Room of One’s Own” essay flashback to my days as a young scholar in A.P. Literature. I agree with her, I’d KILL to have my own office on campus. Or a van that I could put an office in like an FBI agent. One day I’ll write that essay when I end up living in a van called, “A VAN OF ONE’S OWN” by TEDESTEN. Hobos of the world will demand I get the Pulitzer!

“NIGHT JOURNEY”: Ok, so we’ve got a dance interpretation of Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex”. The STAR WARS prologue tells us, the audience, what the plot of this dance is and what emotions will be shown by the characters via dance and music.

I think it’s interesting that this is based on the climactic scene from the famous Greek tragedy “Oedipus Rex” because Isadora Duncan, the pioneer of Modern Dance, was also really inspired by the Ancient Greeks. Early Modern Dance appears to have been heavily influenced by choreographers’ common inspiration and interest in Hellenistic aesthetics and themes.

From what I could see I think some techniques that Martha Graham developed for Modern Dance included dramatic narrative-driven/plot-motivated movements that also expressed character. I feel like she found a way of combining natural movements that were made in reaction to the music that combined to both represent the characters and to motivate the action. For instance, everybody freezes and the blind seer Tiresias enters with this strange, hopping motion that (somehow) tells us he’s blind and also concerned. We also understand that this is a tragic scene by the way that back-up dancers are gesticulating and reacting to the music. Emotion, character, and action are all conveyed using a combination of natural and stylized movements.

I don’t really feel any which way about Martha Graham. I don’t know why, but it reminded me of the way people move in opera. Something about the combination of natural and stylized movement. I wasn’t into it. I guess because I’ve read and seen “Oedipus” I didn’t feel like I’d go out of my way to see someone’s Modern Dance interpretation of it. I didn’t like it but I didn’t dislike it. It worked as far as showing me “Oedipus” but I feel very whatever about it.

  1. DORIS HUMPHREY AND CHARLES WEIDMAN

DORIS HUMPHREY:

More Hellenistic-inspired dress and set. Free and natural and flowing movements to go along with the music. This is a non-narrative exploration of Modern Dance. I have no idea what was going on or what happened. All of the movements were subtle in contrast to “NIGHT JOURNEY”. I think that her interest in natural body movement and interest in nature and movement itself is apparent here. In “Water Study” I thought she was trying to demonstrate how through movement the human body could be anything in the natural world because we are natural beings ourselves. The lightness in the movements in “AIR” were much, much more subtle and I thought it didn’t show humans trying to BE air but rather humans behaving in the manner of air. I had to watch it twice because I misread the title and did not realize she was trying to portray “AIR” but it all made perfect sense.

This was a bit of a toughy for my dyslexia/ADHD and it was a VERY slow two and half minutes. I agree with what I can only guess Humphrey was trying to articulate: air really is pretty boring.

CHARLES WEIDMAN:

90 seconds of glory in “LYNCHTOWN”. Wowie zowie I don’t know what I just saw. This group of men worked together in a tightly choreographed piece that was clearly an exercise in Modern Dance. I think I’d have to see more of Weidman’s work to make a real judgment or critique here. I’m certain this is physically difficult. It was a good display of physical discipline and teamwork. I think all the dancers worked well together and danced well along to the music but I really don’t know what was going on. Is this just dance for the sake of dance? I guess I just don’t know how exactly to approach Modern Dance. I don’t have a good grasp on it whereas I’ve got something of idea about what’s going on in a ballet.

At the risk of ending this Ballet Jambaroo on a rather flat note, I’ll say it was well executed!

SOMEONE’S GONNA DIE TONIGHT! (A Chapter from TEDESTEN’s Memoir)

It’s June 25th 2014. I’m sitting across a desk from Michael Wood in a Russian Language classroom in Murkland Hall. It’s hot. We’re both sweating profusely. I admire Mr. Wood’s beard and the strength of his resolve to remain bearded in this ineffable summer ‘swelt. I had only just recently and begrudgingly shaved my head clean in a futile effort to escape the heat. Like manly men, we went about our business without even a passing mention of the scorch; it wasn’t even addressed in the slightest in our small talk and introductions. He reminded me of Ernest Hemingway and I felt the need to earn his respect as fellow hard-MAN. However, as we sat down to pick my fall schedule, his kindness, candidness, and passion took me by surprise and more powerful than the heat, his sincerity quickly melted away my ultra-masculine posturing.

It was only a month or two before that I had learned that I had been accepted into the Theatre and Dance Program at UNH following my tour-de-force of an audition back in April. It was the theatre equivalent to watching somebody fall down the stairs. As Caesar had said as he marched on Rome, “Alea Iacta Est.” The die was cast. And right then and there in the oppressive summer heat, choosing my classes with Mr. Wood in Murkland: the Rubicon was crossed.

I told Mr. Wood that I had two goals in transferring to UNH from Emerson College besides simply graduating and getting my under graduate degree: I wanted to learn how to play the piano and I wanted to learn how to dance. I thought the first would be much easier than the second because I was classically trained and could read sheet music and had been playing instruments (violin, trumpet, guitar, kazoo, etc.) all my life. Music had always been a passion of mine; and one that I continue to furiously pursue. Dancing, however, was going to be a challenge. Mr. Wood said that I did, in fact, need a dance credit, which I was so happy to hear because previously at Emerson I desperately wanted to take a dance class but I was denied over and over again. My choice was between Theatre Dance I and Ballet I. I deliberate chose Ballet I because I thought it was going to be the more difficult of the two. I thought that if I could learn ballet, then I could learn anything in dance. At that time, I remember also a big reason why I chose ballet without hesitation was because I was reading Tupac Shakur’s biography and I learned that he had taken ballet in high school at the Baltimore School for the Arts. I really wanted to be like Tupac. That summer before my first semester at UNH, I was obsessed with Tupac Shakur. To me, he was an American Hero and somebody to look up to especially because he went to school to study to be an actor and a dancer and I wanted to do the exact same thing. Besides the obvious differences between TUPAC: a poor, Harlem-born, son of a Black Panther and TEDESTEN: middle-class, super white, film-skool dropout and semi-professional agent of chaos, we were both from New York and both classically trained in the fine arts and that was good enough for me.

“Tupac did ballet, so I’m gonna do ballet! This is gonna be rad!” That was precisely my line of thought and, oh boy was it rad.

But why is chronicling my experience stepping into the world of ballet important to me? Simply put: this class has meant more to me than I’ve gotten a real chance to acknowledge and think about. Emotionally, mentally, and physically, taking Ballet I has been by far the best decision I’ve made in 5 years. From mess to success, I seriously doubt that I’d’ve been here at the end of my first semester back in college/first semester at UNH and be feeling actually proud of myself. I feel good for the first time in forever and I really can’t believe it.

It’s been a busy semester all the way through from start to finish and the last few weeks have been aggressively taxing. I haven’t had a minute to breathe, let alone think or feel. I really wanted to take this opportunity to write a final essay about not just what I’ve learned and experienced taking this class as an introduction to the fine art of Ballet, but also I wanted to write something personal and thoughtful because writing is where I feel I can express myself and take the time to reckon with my feelings. Sometimes I only have feelings when I write about them. If I don’t take the time to write I lose myself. My world spins out of control and I am gutted. This class represents something greater to me than credits on my transcript. Long before the semester started, there were times when things got out of control and all that I had to hang on to was counting down the days until the first ballet class. Ballet was the first thing I’ve had to look forward to in a long time. I’ve had a very hard time looking forward to things in the past because I’ve so often been let down. It is rare that I can look forward to something and simply be excited and feel joy. Ballet came through for me during a time when most things don’t, haven’t, or won’t.

Mrs. Endrizzi, I know this essay is late, but I have learned that I would rather fail a project than pass in an incomplete and hollow effort when I know that I had much, much more to give. I started playing baseball when I was 3-years-old and nothing hurts more than walking off the field at the end of a game knowing that you didn’t give everything you could give and you didn’t give yourself a chance to do your best with everything you had. Even when my team won, I felt badly if I personally had a bad game—even if it wasn’t to the over all detriment to the team. If I didn’t give my best effort I wouldn’t sleep til the next at bat. The cliché they tell kids even at 3-years-old is, “leave everything on the field.” I’d like to take this opportunity to leave the field with my greatest effort.

Amidst the frenzy that has been the end of the semester, I have finally found the time to push myself into a sentimental and thoughtful moment (which is never easy for me). Your confidence in me and patience with me have meant a lot to me and I wanted to end this class by sharing and detailing my experience accurately and unequivocally in my preferred form of artistic expression: writing. Your passion for ballet, Susan, has imbued me with the inspiration and self-esteem that I thought I had lost years ago and I cannot thank you enough for sharing your passion for this fine art. More than anything has in a very long time, your class has stimulated my imagination and intellectual curiosity and I wanted to express my deepest appreciation and gratitude.

To give this self-indulgent twinkle of verbosity some semblance of a final project, I would myself categorize said twinkle as a written mirror image to a chapter out of Gelsey Kirkland’s memoirs as a professional dancer. This is a chapter out of my own memoir (titled “Someone’s Gonna Die Tonight!”) about my kamikaze introduction to the fine art of Ballet and what the experience has meant to me. Throughout all of the lectures and all of the readings about all of these fascinating and eccentric figures who make up the rich history of Ballet, I wanted to know who they were and what they thought on a more personal level. I have loved the quotes you’ve shared with us and the couple of videos of interviews with performers that we have seen. I have not read Kirkland’s memoirs, “Dancing On My Grave” and “The Shape of Love” but I am dying to just having learned about her and her struggles as a professional ballerina. She’s a fighter and I think it is always interesting to read an artist’s first hand account of their life and work. I love history and biographies and autobiographies. Especially books about or authored by artists and entertainers. This is the world I exist in myself and I always think there is something to learn from these people.

The most fun I’ve had this semester is writing essays for this class and I am very happy that you like my sense of humor because a lot of people HATE it. For me though, poking fun is my own personal highest expression of flattery. To me, it means there is fun to be had in whatever I’m writing about. If I can’t find substance or fun or intellectual stimulation in a subject, I do not make an effort and thusly I do not try to find the entertaining side of it. I bite down hard, put my head down, and get through it painlessly as I can. If my paper on a topic isn’t wordy, then I did not try very hard because I did not care for the topic. I find that as I get older, it becomes increasingly more painful and difficult for me to put even the slightest bit of effort into something I’ve got absolutely no passion for. Especially when it comes to WRITING about something I’ve no passion for because, like I said, writing is my favorite form of expression. So all of that being said, here is my final essay: my own Gelsey Kirkland inspired, ballet themed memoir chapter.

SECOND CHANCE EN POINTE

I remember vividly the moment I realized I was living The American Dream. I was driving home from baseball practice with my brother in our 1998 red Honda Civic. It was a gorgeous and brutally hot spring day in Toledo, Ohio. I pulled into the driveway of my mom’s apartment. My parents had gotten divorced just a little over a year before and were living on opposite sides of town. My mom was living in a swamp just south of the city out in the soybean and cornfields that surrounded Toledo. My dad was living in a project downtown in Southwyck—the crack neighborhood of Toledo and the original home of the gang known as the Glass City Mafia. My dad’s place was just down the street from my high school, between the demolished remains of the old mall sitting in the middle of a parking lot overgrown with weeds, and an abandoned Clarion Hotel, the tallest building for miles in this low-slung section of the city. Southwyck staggered on into infinite oblivion in the shadow of the abandoned hotel. Under the watchful eye of the Clarion. It wasn’t literally bombed-out, but figuratively, the whole city was bombed-out. Whenever I drove to my dad’s, I always made a point to park next to the Jeep with the bullet holes in the door. I figured nobody messed with whoever owned the shot-up Jeep. It was the Wild Wild Mid-West. Even though I was born in New York, raised in Massachusetts and only lived in Toledo (the Glass City) for just my four years of high school, I like to say I grew up there. This sad rust-belt city was the backdrop to my time in high school.

It hit me as I pulled into my mom’s driveway in the swamp that I was quite literally living the American Dream: it was the second semester of my senior year at a wicked expensive, high-class, swanky, private high school in the Midwest—the heartland of America—I was playing Varsity baseball, I was dating a beautiful, blonde cheerleader, my brother (also a Varsity baseball star) was my best friend, my mom was the principal of the school, I had million friends, I had my own car, I got into my number one school of choice: Emerson College, and I was going to be off to Hollywood in no time at all! I was THE MAN!

And then I was about to get out of the car and follow my brother into the house when I realized that all of this was garbage. It was the American Fever Dream—it was a nightmare. I hated it. I hated all my friends. I hated my school. I hated my parents. I hated my brother (and he hated me). I hated my beautiful blonde cheerleader girlfriend (and she hated me). I hated baseball. I hated my car. I hated myself and I hated this fraudulent life I had out of nowhere ended up living. This wasn’t me and this wasn’t my life. I never wanted any of this. And I started crying. I just shut down the engine and sat in my car with the door open and the keys still in the ignition making that awful beeping noise to remind you to take your keys out of the car before slamming the door shut and walking away in a rage. I just sat there and cried. I kept saying over and over to myself the same thing I’d been saying since my parents got divorced: what the hell happened? Nothing made sense. Everything hurt. All I could do was ask that question, “what the hell happened?” knowing there wasn’t going to be an answer coming anytime soon. I got hysterical and I said to myself, “I’m not Heathcliff—this isn’t Wuthering Heights—I’m Don Quixote! I’m Don Quixote!” and when I realized I was Don Quixote, living a fantasy life as a fraud with my shitty, fat, unwilling sidekick brother as my Sancho Panza, my girlfriend who hated me and who I hated back was my make-believe love Aldonza Lorenzo, I was living in a wasteland just like La Mancha, and my shitty car was just like Don Quixote’s back-broken, shitty horse, Rocinante. I had spent four wretched years punching at shadows and fighting with windmills, living in my own private fantasy world. Reality struck. It struck hard and fast out of nowhere in the driveway. But I only had to endure a few more months of this nightmare before I could escape it and start college in Boston. I collected myself and told myself I could make it through just a couple more months. I was wrong.

This was just the first of several successive complete nervous breakdowns. From there, it was nothing but one meltdown after another. I didn’t do anything about these episodes. Every morning when I woke up, I’d cry over having to decide what to wear to school. It wasn’t about anything other than having to wake up and make a decision. I couldn’t handle it. Sometimes, I’d just wake up crying—I’d literally wake up in the middle of sobbing like I would be crying in a dream and I’d wake up to find myself crying in real life. And I stupidly kept going. I just limped through the days counting down to my departure to Emerson where I hoped to find solace. Day one, I walked into Emerson emotionally crippled. Two years later, I was wheel-chaired out and into an ambulance headed straight for rehab. Everything that happened in between, to put it into one sentence, was the most fun that I never want to have again.

I was discharged from McLean Hospital in Arlington, MA on October 21st 2013. It was the best 5½ days I’ve ever had in my life. If I wasn’t happy then, I never will be. The Short Term Unit at McLean was the only place I could go to get a chance to start over. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and (specifically) severe Alcohol Dependence. Until then, I had spent almost every single day drinking for what was probably a little over two full years. I was a fucking disaster. I had burned every possible bridge at Emerson. My world was in a perpetual state of chaos characterized by violence, drug and alcohol abuse, petty “crime”, and every form of social deviance. I came to a point where I figured that since the world around me was spinning out of control, there’s no use in trying to approach it sober. I decided that if my world was going to be on fire then the only way to put it out was with cheap vodka. It was this disturbed line of thinking that ultimately led to my self-inflicted demise.

Before they let me out of the hospital, I needed to come up with a plan for what I would do with myself upon my discharge. I needed to let the doctors and staff know where I would go, where I’d find a therapist and a psychiatrist and what my long term plans were so I’d have something to work toward. I had three options: go back to Emerson, go live in DC with my dad and transfer to University of Maryland, or go live with my mom in Dover and transfer to the University of New Hampshire. I chose to live with my mom and work toward enrolling in UNH and finishing my undergraduate degree. At the time, the only reason I chose that option was because I had spent the previous summer in Dover and all my stuff was at my mom’s place so I figured it wouldn’t be too bad and UNH seemed nice enough to me. I walked out of McLean nice and sober with bright hopes for the future. This was good—but it wasn’t good enough.

My first priority was getting a fucking grip. My last drink was September 10th 2013 in an Irish soccer bar in Dorchester, MA called, “The Banshee.” I went absolutely nuts in The Banshee. The USA was playing Mexico in for a spot in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and I spent two full hours shouting at the top of my lungs sucking down Guinness after Guinness like it was Coca-Cola. I had only just turned 20-years-old but two years straight years of constant drinking, Camel Blue 99 cigarettes, daily victory cigars, chewing tobacco (a foul habit I picked up on the baseball fields of Ohio), and doing bad things to good people took a toll on my face and body and I looked like a divorced, scum-bag, 35-year-old absentee father. My freshman year, I once told a teacher I was late because, “my kid was sick” as a joke and she believed me. I was only 18 at the time.

I had tried in vain to quit drinking at that point a few times before and every time I tried to quit I managed to screw up monumentally. Each screw up became exponentially worse than the last. I once ended up walking out of an H&M in a $500 suit I didn’t pay for under my coat and sweatpants and did a Superman-phonebooth-move and tossed my trashy clothes on the street and went to a party in a penthouse in the Ritz Carlton. It was election night and I proceeded to mix a bunch of Benzedrine (speed) with Nyquil (the kids these days call that “sizzurp”) and drank 3 bottles of champagne and went home with friend of mine who was an Icelandic Horseback Riding journalist whose boyfriend was a 36-year-old international fugitive hiding out in Iceland wanted for statutory rape. On our way back to her house, I made her buy me peanut M&Ms and condoms. During Mitt Romney’s concession speech, with the glow of the TV the only light on in the otherwise uninterrupted darkness of her Backbay apartment she told me she loved me. I promptly pretended to be sick, scrambled around furiously in the dark to put my stolen suit back on, and ran as fast as I could in my Italian leather Beatle Boots back to the emotional safety of my dorm at Emerson. It wasn’t until I was deep in the Boston Garden that I realized I had left behind my favorite pair of boxers—ironically the only thing other than my Beatle Boots that I hadn’t stolen that day. We never spoke again and I never got my boxers back. This was just another catastrophic stab at quitting drinking. But even at times like that, at 4AM running around the empty streets of Boston commando in a stolen suit, even though I realized I had a problem, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

So it was at the Banshee I had my last drink. It was almost a full year after my Election Night romp. I thought that by comparison, this belligerent night at the bar watching soccer was progress. But a month later, I was hospitalized for attempted suicide.

Now that I’ve been sober for 15 months I feel great but when I first got out of the hospital and got real help for my alcohol abuse and mental illness and got professional help, I was scared and alone. It was psychologically difficult to accept that I had not only an alcohol abuse problem but also that I was mentally ill. It was also hard to accept that in order to stop using drugs and drinking, I was going to have to start taking medication. I was terrified of going on medication for depression and anxiety because I didn’t know what it was going to do to me. I always had alcohol to help deal with my depression and anxiety and in my warped thinking, I thought I needed to drink to deal with these issues. That was why I failed so many times before when I had tried to quit drinking. Within two months of sobriety, my depression got unbearable. The world was too disturbing and sad and my future was too bleak to come to terms with sober. I knew I had to take a year off from school because I needed to practice being sober and get a grip. College was the absolute worst place to try to sober up. So rather than go back into the storm, I decided to sit in seclusion and get better so I could come to UNH the next fall in good shape. I knew it’d be hard, but to make a boring and awful story short, it was the worst ten months of my life sobering up and waiting to start over again.

Flash forward to June 25th 2014 in Murkland with Mr. Wood. I had gained 75lbs. after coming out of McLean. I was in appalling physical condition on top of being an emotional and mental train wreck. I had been accepted into the UNH Acting Program but none of it felt real. My grasp on reality was non-existent. The world seemed much more real to me when I was drinking. Sober, everything seemed way too grim and empty to be real. I didn’t want to accept it. Subconsciously, I think I chose to take ballet because it made going to UNH seem real to me. It gave me a real sense of a future. Ballet gave me something to look forward to. I went home that day with my schedule in my hand and I knew that the first day September 2nd at 8:40AM I was going to be starting off my second chance en pointe in Ballet class.

I took an expo-marker and wrote down on the mirror in my bedroom the number of days until my first Ballet class. For me, I didn’t count down the days til I got to UNH, I counted down the days to ballet. I finally had a real goal. I had to get in shape. I was going to learn how to dance or die trying.

I went to the gym at the school my mom worked at; she’s the principal of Berwick Academy in South Berwick. I spent probably four hours a day running in the gym on the treadmill and the elliptical and then I’d go outside to the basketball court and work on my shot. I suck at basketball but I made myself play basketball for about 2 hours a day in the sun because I wanted to get not just physical exercise but mental exercise as well. Basketball was always frustrating to me because my brother and my dad were always taller than me—both are 6’5” and was only 5’11”—so they always destroyed me when we played and I never thought it was fun. I purposefully practiced my shot because I wanted to simulate what it would be like trying something new physically that was frustrating and that was mechanics and discipline based like ballet. It’s mentally demanding to keep practicing something you’re atrocious at especially on your own but I kept at it in anticipation of being frustrated by ballet. I also wanted to work on my coordination and focus on self-discipline where attention to mechanics were concerned. I also knew that I needed to lose a lot of weight as quickly as I possible because my feet and knees were killing me with all the weight I’d put on since coming out of the hospital.

It was an ugly and brutal regime but I reveled in it. All summer I thought about what that first day in ballet class would be like. I wanted to be in peak physical condition. I wanted to be able to learn fast and not be frustrated by the challenge of learning something new. I stuck with it and lost 75lbs. in almost no time at all. My basketball game got really good too. The Athletic Director even took notice and said I was the hardest working man on campus. That’s the first time anybody’s said that about me and meant it. I got back in shape and I got my confidence back. I was on medications that worked and got me to “normal” and I was making progress in therapy. I finally felt ready for my new start. For the first time in forever, I was sober and I was motivated. I felt I was ready for any new challenge.

A week or so before the first day of school, my mom took me to see BILLY ELLIOT at the Ogunquit Playhouse. It blew me away. I desperately wanted to dance like that kid on stage. The kid who played Billy was insanely talented to point where all I could think was, “damn, I hope he doesn’t turn into another one of those child-star tragedies.” It was a good omen. My new adventure was going to be nothing but a success. My head, for the first time in forever, was screwed on straight.

I knew nothing about Ballet before this class. My only previous interaction with the art was limited to Kanye West’s 2010 music video for his song, “Runaway,” which is beautiful. Kanye’s album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which the single “Runaway” was on, came with a poster of a ballerina from the music video. I’ve always put that ballerina poster up in every room I’ve lived in over the last four years. I’ve moved six times into six different bedrooms in the last four years but every time I moved into a new room I made sure to pin up that poster. I never had a real reason other than that I loved the song and the music video and I thought it was a beautiful image. Some things take time to reveal their deeper meanings. If you hang on to them long enough, eventually, what these things symbolize becomes clear and more powerful than you could have imagined.

I never consciously realized that ballet had always been there for me. Subconsciously, it was always there, secretly acting as the connecting thread that strung together this series of tragedies and triumphs in my life. There it was, hanging on my wall. Or written on my mirror in expo-marker. On the treadmill counting my progress in miles. I didn’t realize any of this until I saw Anna Pavlova’s “Dying Swan.” I cried. I had been trying for so long to push away all these feelings because I couldn’t handle them. I had spent a full year trying to erase from my memory all those horrible years of good, bad, and ugly. But when I saw Pavlova, it all came back. I couldn’t hold it back anymore and I just let it consume me. I couldn’t remember the last time I cried. I hadn’t cried in so long that every time I’d felt tears coming on it just all of the sudden stopped all together; before that moment crying had felt just as strange as the sensation of a sneeze coming on and then just disappearing. Frustrating and physically uncomfortable. But I finally could cry again.

The music touched me from the moment the first note was played. And then when Pavlova danced I felt as though all my senses were shut off and I were watching with my heart. I felt my heart again. I hadn’t felt it in years at that point. My whole body froze and the music and dance consumed me as if I was actually there watching her. I can’t describe that first experience watching her. It was like a dream. It was surreal. I had to watch the video over and over again to truly understand that Anna Pavlova was a real person and that she was really dancing. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t imagine a song being that beautiful. I couldn’t imagine a human being moving the way she did.

I didn’t know exactly why it touched my heart that way at the time. Now, thinking about it for the first time since seeing “Dying Swan,” I know exactly why it brought me to tears of true joy: it was real. It was all real. I had struggled for so long trying to get a grip on reality. I had spent so much time feeling like I was living in a dream world. I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. In my darkest moments, everything was a nightmare. And when the drugs were working, it was hard to accept the banality of life and my own pathetic existence. The two poles between which I careened disenchanted, frightened, and alone were at one end a nightmare world of infinite terrors, and at the opposite end a world of the cold and harsh reality that was defined by frustrating and debilitating internal and external limitations. And everything in between was nothing more than the second hand of the clock’s ticking echo; a cruel reminder of being condemned to mortality and the inevitability of death from which the only freedom was the choice put an end to this miserable existence on your own terms and on your own time. “Dying Swan” destroyed my depression. Anna Pavlova freed me from this bleakness that I had tried so hard for so long to free myself from and yet had time and time again failed. Anna Pavlova’s “Dying Swan” reminded me how beautiful life truly is and how magical life can truly be.

You can say it to yourself over and over and over and never believe it until you feel it, “it is a pleasure and a privilege to be alive.” I’ve had to tell myself that so many times but it is difficult to feel that it is true. Anna Pavlova made me believe in life again but it wasn’t just her, it was all of Ballet that reminded my why I’m still here. There are so many lovely things to experience in this world just waiting to be discovered. For me, Ballet has been a beautiful discovery.

Since this class began back in September, I have finally felt that I have both my feet firmly on the ground and my head screwed on straight. I no longer wake up crying or wondering whether the world around me is real or not or if I am still dreaming. It’s been a good and successful semester and I am proud of myself and genuinely I feel happiness. It hasn’t all been easy though. There have been many moments of self-doubt and time spent wondering, “what in the HELL am I doing here??” I came here to prove to myself that I could still live without alcohol. I needed to prove to myself that I could feel like myself and be myself without alcohol because when I quit drinking, I felt like a part of me was gone and I could never get it back. I wondered if I would ever be able to act again or even pursue a career in the arts. But through the small moments of self-doubt and feeling out of place, Ballet has been the axis around which I revolve. Ballet has been my constant this semester.

I’ve found, since getting out of the hospital a year ago, that the best way to figure out who you are is to completely step out of your own element. Early on when I quit drinking, I ended up dabbling in Evangelical Baptism and boy oh boy was I out of my element—“out of my element” doesn’t even describe TEDESTEN’s dinking around in the ol’ Evangelicalism; it was more like stepping into the completely wrong habitat or biosphere. Like a drunk-ass, belligerent gorilla crashing a funeral, it went about as poorly as any idiotic and half-hearted stab at reformation can go—sadly, however, it was not my worst effort. But where other efforts have failed, this has been a success. By taking ballet, I was able to step out of my comfort zone and find myself.

In Ballet, I’ve felt like myself—which is rare. Ballet’s forced me to take an emotional inventory of what I’ve got going on upstairs in my head. I know I’m not very good at ballet yet but I really have come to love dancing and I know I’m getting better every time I step into the studio. I like that feeling. I like knowing that every time I dance, I’m better than I was the last time. It’s also marked a lot of progress for me. At the beginning of the year I thought, “wow, there is NO WAY I could do this drinking.” But now, I think to myself, “wow, I actually don’t need to drink to do this.”

It wasn’t until taking Ballet I that I realized I could anything on my own without drinking. In Ballet I, I realized that not only did I not need to drink to be engaged in the arts but also that drinking would be to my detriment. This class reminded me that I was a creative person who could do anything they wanted to. This class made me finally realize that I didn’t need to drink to be creative. I didn’t need to drink to have feelings. I didn’t need to drink to just go about my day and stave off depression and anxiety. I’ve stayed sober and I finally feel good about that.

I want to stick with Ballet and I want to get good at it. This class has been a gift and Ballet is something I will continue to pursue. Susan, I can’t thank you enough for helping me start from nothing in this class and also giving me the amazing opportunity to be in “Don Quixote.” It’s painfully funny that life has come full circle. Four years later, after my Don Quixote-themed Midwest Meltdown, here I am in the ballet “Don Quixote.” But this time, I’m not the Maniac of La Mancha—I’m a toreador! That’s progress.

I can’t thank you enough, Susan. I hope that my gratitude and appreciation have come through at least in some way in this deranged account of my life. The pleasure has been all mine.

Ted

Immer Zu! Dann Sind Wir Helden…Nur Für Einen Tag!

Shortly after beginning my third year at Emerson College I dropped out and took a full year off of school to address my drinking problem. I had hit rock bottom after spending the better part of 2 years or so staring into the abyss. This lengthy stare into the abyss turned into full-blown alcohol dependency and I checked out of Emerson and checked into rehabilitation at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA. After what turned out to be the best five and a half days of my life I moved out to Portland, Oregon to work for my uncle making custom-built garage doors. I lived with my aunt and uncle and my two cousins; two boys ages 8 and 10. Being only a few months sober at the time, it became clear within about a week that this situation did not favor sobriety. Between the hard manual labor, the constantly bleak and rainy Portland weather, and having to deal with young children all day everyday, I felt that I had picked the wrong lifetime to quit drinking.

Out of school with an increasingly cleared head I felt my brain rotting from lack of intellectual stimulation. Not to speak ill of my cousins, but young children do not have very many interesting things to say, nor for that matter are they very good at holding a conversation. Eight and ten year old boys also love to fight and make sport of irritating whomever they’ve deemed victim of the hour. The time I spent looking after these little bastards and trying my damnedest to keep them from killing each other at every chance they got inspired me to take up learning German in whatever spare time I had.

Coldly and cruelly sober, without intellectual stimulation, and with two ruffians to look after, learning German became the perfect hobby for this situation I had found myself in. I studied diligently all those rainy nights alone and when I had to look after the boys and they needed some sharp words I’d yell at them in German and it would freak them out and set them straight. It’s a scary language and it’s close enough to English so that even if you don’t understand what the exact message is, you will at the very least understand the gist of what is being said at you. Every time those boys acted up I knew I couldn’t explode on them in English because they were unabashed and unashamed tattletales so my go to became a sharp and snappy, “Ficken Sie mit mir nicht!” This and other rude phrases kept the ruckus to minimum most of the time and was more effective than I thought it would be. I also practiced by speaking German to the dog—a great big Newfoundland I had to step over every morning to get to my daily five gallons of black coffee, “Entschuldigen Sie mich, Hunde! Guten Morgen!” And of course when I accidently just walked right into the great beast I apologized, “Es tut mir Leid, Hunde!” It’s been a full year now of learning German as a hobby and it is the gift that keeps on giving. And when I read “Woyzeck” and saw Werner Herzog’s 1979 film adaptation, my mind was blown.

It is my pseudo-intellectual, arm-chair anthropologist, opinion that German history and culture are truly an enigma. Pun intended in reference to the Wehrmacht’s Enigma Code used in the Second World War. When studying the German language, one picks up quite a bit of German history along the way. In the most respectful and least ugly American way, I would describe German as a barbarian language spoken formally and thoroughly constructed with discipline. The literal translations of German to English are absolutely insane and what’s interesting is that sometimes these literal translations resemble Shakespeare’s English as far as sentence structure is concerned. Attention to structure is of the utmost importance when speaking German. There is a fine line between speaking good German and making perfect sense when you speak and making absolutely no sense whatsoever. I fall into the latter category of speakers. My brother calls this, “beggar speak.” He’s not wrong; I have a grasp of this language but I am far from anything one might even mistake as mastery let alone fluency. However, what little German I know made my experience reading “Woyzeck” much richer.

As tragic as Buechner’s early death and incompletion of “Woyzeck” is, I would argue that he was doomed to die before completing this play and, moreover, this play was never meant to be completed. The combination of Buechner’s death and incompletion of “Woyzeck” is extremely significant because of what this play, author, and incompletion not only symbolize but also foreshadow. Reading this play from a historical perspective is eerie in contrast to reading “Woyzeck” without knowing a scrap of German history.

In his letter to his wife, Buechner said, “A dramatic poet is in my eyes nothing but a writer of history, but is superior to the latter in that he creates history for the second time.” Buechner was not only right about recreating history, but he forgot to mention that he had a crystal ball and could see the next one hundred years into the future. Buechner doesn’t just recreate history, in “Woyzeck” Buechner writes the prelude to the following century for Germany.

Buechner was writing “Woyzeck” in the 1830’s, a time period in which I would make the argument that was the true beginning of the 19th Century, as we know it. This was a generation after the conclusion of Napoleonic Wars ending in 1815 with the Congress of Vienna. The Industrial Revolution had already begun in England and was about to spread worldwide and change the world forever. Culturally, this was the end of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment and the dawn of Romanticism. It was in the early 1830’s that German art critics coined the term, “Romanticism” as a way of describing art that was inspired by the fantastical and mystical. In Germany at this time, many artists were finding inspiration in ancient German Mythology and Germanic Pagan traditions. The Romantic Era was defined by a rejection of Logic. After the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, and the Napoleonic Wars, coinciding with the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, Europe was done of Logic. The zeitgeist turned toward interest in escapism and individualism. It is my opinion that Buechner writes “Woyzeck” with a complete comprehension of what is to follow in this Age of Romanticism.

Many of the greatest German philosophers and thinkers of the 19th century came up with theories that echo back to “Woyzeck” in a way that one would think that it was actually Buechner who wrote the play based on these men’s work. However, what makes Buechner’s play so eerie is that he wrote “Woyzeck” before Marx’s “Das Kapital,” before Nietzsche came up with his Ubermensch and Master and Slave Morality theories, before Otto von Bismarck made his “Blood and Iron” speech, before Freud began his research on human sexuality, and long before Madame Blavatski became a world famous Occultist, and pseudo-sciences became popular and sickening fascinations. There is a little bit of Nostradamus in Buechner and in “Woyzeck” it feels as though he is giving us a peak behind the curtain and showing us what is to come. Buechner predicts the fate of Germany. In “Woyzeck” a lowly soldier of assumed foreign descent, is driven to madness by society and commits murder. This is a chilling premonition of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and the millions of atrocities he and the Nazi Party were to commit a century later.

One of the most significant symbols in the play is the knife that Woyzeck murders Marie with at the end of the play. Marx would argue that this outburst of violence represents the lower classes’ rise against the oppression of the upper class that has pushed them to their limits. This is an example of Marx’s Conflict Theory. The knife covered in blood is the metaphorical image that Otto von Bismarck used in his “Blood and Iron” speech announcing his ambitious, geopolitical goal of German Unification. Considering that Marie does try to make amends with God and seeks redemption in the Bible passage about Mary Magdalene’s atonement but still dies a brutal death at the hands of a man who we can assume does not fear God, Nietzsche might read that and say, “Gott ist tot.” Even more eerily, Nietzsche’s full quote from The Gay Science is as follows:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves?

It is almost as if Nietzsche is referring to the end of “Woyzeck” when Woyzeck stabs Marie with the knife and tries desperately to clean the blood off in the pond and in one ending he disappears into the water. On the other hand, Freud might say that this act of murder comes purely out of Woyzeck’s sexual frustration. Woyzeck spends a good deal of the play going mad with jealously over Marie who can barely look at him or touch him. The use of a phallic object—the knife—and the multiple passionate thrusts penetrating into Marie makes this more than a murder; it is a subconscious rape motivated by sexual frustration and repression.

It is also worth pointing out that Woyzeck buys the knife from a Jewish pawnbroker who calls him a swine at the end of the transaction. When I first read this scene all I could think was how this scene is played out one hundred years later and turned on its head in the Nacht der langen Messer. The 1934 Night of the Long Knives was for the most part a Nazi Party in-house clean up to facilitate the transition of power from the SA to the SS. However, four years later in 1938, it was the SS that targeted the Jewish populations of Germany and Austria in the Kristallnacht pogrom using the same terror tactics of murder, mayhem, and arson.

There is something strangely prophetic about “Woyzeck” and the symbolic parallels between the dramatic narrative and characters and themes and the historical events that lead to the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. There are many things that Woyzeck and Hitler have in common. Hitler was probably history’s evilest vegetarian and Woyzeck here eats nothing but peas. (On a side note, I think Hitler’s insanity can be confirmed and summed up in the fact that he was an ardent tee-totaling vegetarian but he used meth regularly. What sort of psycho won’t eat meat on principle but somehow figures that meth totally OK?) Woyzeck is not a very common German name and one can assume that the character may be a Pole or a Czech. I am familiar with the Cyrillic Alphabet and the name “Woyzeck” spelt using Cyrillic characters reads exactly like the proper pronunciation of the name rather than when spelt using the Latin alphabet. Hitler was an Austrian who joined the German Army in the First World War. Both men (assuming Woyzeck is from elsewhere based on his name) were non-Germans who joined the German army.

There were more subtle elements that I picked up on, which I thought made “Woyzeck” the link between the Romantic Era and how it effected Germany’s future. The Doctor in “Woyzeck” was a totally Romantic Era inspired character. He was a complete quack and a buffoon and he is the one who is responsible for a lot of Woyzeck’s misery. This Doctor doing more harm than good is a truly Romantic Era theme. This is a personified rejection of logic or at least those who would lie to you and tell you that they know what they’re doing. To me, I thought the Doctor was like a Romantic parody of Robinson Crusoe who was the Enlightenment Hero. Robinson Crusoe was man of pure ration and logic and used his intelligence to survive alone on an island for 28 years. I think the Doctor is a mockery of the Enlightenment values that Robinson Crusoe represents.

Another thing that caught my attention was how nature played a role in “Woyzeck.” The character Woyzeck hallucinates and hears voices in the woods and when he’s out in the field that tell him to kill Marie. It is almost a cautionary tale about man’s return to nature. The Captain and the Doctor say that a good man is one who is in complete control of his animalistic side and ignores his natural instincts. These men are discussing the basics of Victorian Ideals and sexual repression that would become the cultural norm later on in the century. I would be very curious to know what Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thoreau would have to say about “Woyzeck.” Woyzeck himself certainly does not find God in nature. Even if “Woyzeck” is not a Transcendentalist play, I think that what Buechner here is recognizing is that in the Romantic Era people are moving away from organized religion and going all the way back to ancient mythology, paganism and mysticism, pseudoscience, Transcendentalism, and the Occult. Not only does this become the reality of the Romantic Era but unfortunately it all comes to a head and takes a horrible turn for the worst in Germany.

In writing “Woyzeck,” Buechner reveals to us that he has some unbelievable power of foresight and gives us an artistic and poetic representation of the history that is to become. Buechner writes history before it happens. One could teach an entire course on how “Woyzeck” is extremely historically significant to Germany in its prophetic detailing of the German century to follow. I would go a step further than that and say that although Buechner seems to predict the future of his nation, what I believe to be the most significant part of Buechner’s “Wozeck” is that Buechner died before he could finish the play and the work remained incomplete. Could there really be any other fate for a man symbolically writing Germany’s future? By dying before finishing his play, Buechner unintentionally becomes part of the oracular metaphor. How fitting is it that this man seems to know so much about what is to come but his work is left unfinished? This is a real life metaphor for Germany and this is how the German people feel about themselves culturally.

I’m currently reading Tobias Ruther’s book, “Heroes: David Bowie in Berlin” which is a historical account of the musical artist David Bowie’s time spent recording music in the city of Berlin from the years 1976 to 1979. The author Tobias Ruther is a Berliner and he is a man who is proud of his city and goes so far to say that Berlin is the city which best represents Germany, its people, its culture, and of course its history. On a side note, I wonder how a Bavarian from Munich would take that argument; I imagine he’d take it with a smirk and a sarcastic, “Jawohl!” Tobias Ruther spends a lot of time in the book talking about what Berlin represents, what the city is like, and what it was like at the height of the Cold War when it was an island in the middle of the Eastern Bloc.

Bowie went to Berlin more than thirty years after the end of the Second World War and yet he didn’t even walk a full city block before he noticed scars still left over from the War. There are still buildings in Berlin that were part of Albert Speer’s great plans to build the city into the grand capital of Hitler’s Reich and ultimately intended to be the capital of the world once the Nazi’s conquered it. Bowie even visited the Fueher-bunker, the bomb shelter where Hitler spent his last days before committing suicide. His body was burned just outside the entrance to the bunker. Ruther says that the Berlin that Bowie was living in was still rebuilding itself from the War. Ruther also says that Berlin is the city which best represents all Germans and how the Germans see their destiny as a people: Berlin is the city that is always becoming, cursed never to become. The German verb is, “werden” which makes up basically the entirety of the German language future tense. “Werden” or “to Become” is an integral part of the German language and this is symbolic of how, “becoming what you are meant to be” and “fulfilling your destiny” are very significant aspects of German culture and the German identity. Buechner never became the great playwright he was destined to become. “Woyzeck” is a great play, but it was never finished; it never became.

Understanding all of this, I think that it was Buechner’s destiny to die young and “Woyzeck” was never meant to be completed. I think that one can make connections all day citing instances in “Woyzeck” that seem to prophesize the future of Germany but the strangest coincidence of all is the historical fact that it was not finished, moreover, because the playwright whom appeared to have all of the answers died before he could finish it. It is so fitting to German culture and German identity that the man who wrote Germany’s script died before he could finish it. Gott ist tot. In the context of German culture, it feels like no coincidence that Buechner died and left “Woyzeck” incomplete. It had to be. This is history becoming art.

One could easily see it as a Greek Myth: A man writes a play that predicts the future of his nation—whether by great coincidence or supernatural foresight he writes the script that his nation is to follow. But the playwright does not know the end of his play. He writes three endings and dies before putting all of the scenes in the order he wants. But time moves forward without stopping. The script is incomplete and the future of this nation seems to never quite come to fruition. And in the end, we know that the playwright saw into the future but he did not understand exactly what he saw. He wrote three endings not knowing which one was to be the final scene. Just over a century later it turned out that he was correct but confused. He saw all three endings, but he did not understand that not just one but all three would come true.

Think about the three endings that Buechner wrote. In one ending, Woyzeck wades into the pond after murdering Marie and tries to throw the knife farther and farther out into the water and he drowns trying to cover up his crime. In the second ending, he does the same thing but he does not drown but he gets out of the pond and his child turns away from him in horror. In the third ending, Woyzeck is arrested and put on trial. The judge finds him guilty of what is described as, “a beautiful murder.” When I think about these three endings, I think about Germany in 1945 and how these are symbolic and poetic future historical metaphors. This can all be seen as an allegory or metaphor for the end of the Third Reich.

Hitler and many other Nazi Party members ended up taking their own lives, drowning in their own hateful crimes. In the second ending, Woyzeck sees his child once he’s come out of the pond but his child is horrified by him and turns away from his father. This could easily be a metaphor for how the Germans felt betrayed by the Nazis and Hitler’s promises. I think that Tobias Ruther would say that Germany after the Second World War was just like that young child. Germany was betrayed by those who she trusted and those who promised her the world. Germany in 1945, when it was all over, was an orphaned nation. Germany had to start over with others looking after her. An entire generation of Germans was lost and had no history to look to for guidance. An entire generation of Germany was born in a nightmare and had to grow up on its own finding itself in a situation created by terror and chaos. For many Germans after 1945, there was no past as Ruther talks about in his book.

The third ending is the clearest look of all into the crystal ball. This is the Trial at Nuremburg. “A good murder, a right pretty murder; as pretty as a man could ever hope to see. We haven’t had one like it in ages,” I believe are final words of one of the officers in the courtroom. I find it personally sickening at worst and creepy and anti-social at best to call a murder, “beautiful.” I am an Immanuel Kant man myself and would only say that the most a murder can be is, “sublime.” Choosing to interpret the choice of diction in this last line in the courtroom as a way of calling the murder sublime, I think the basic message that is being conveyed is simply shock and amazement that a human being is capable of such a heinous act of violence. I think that Kant would say this is a reaction to the sublime. The Holocaust was the most terrifying act of mass murder ever perpetrated in human history. The grim, cold, and calculated efficiency with which the Nazis murdered millions of innocent human beings in the matter of only a few years was never before seen in human history. Everyone who participated in the Nuremburg Trials was overwhelmed by the situation and at first; the Allies had no idea how to try these war criminals for crimes against humanity that they had never before seen. The trials lasted well into 1946 because the Allies were trying to use law, due process, and reason to come to terms with acts of evil that were unfathomable and seemingly beyond human capacity. The Nuremburg Trials, just like the trial of Woyzeck as stated by the officer, left us in awe of what evil we are capable of when we are pushed to the limits of our sanity.

Buechner knew all three endings. He just didn’t know that it would end all three ways simultaneously. To paraphrase Mark Twain, that is the difference between fiction and real life: fiction has to make sense. Sometimes, however, real life makes more sense than we think it does and sometimes it has more symbolic meaning than we realize. I think that Buechner was doomed to die and leave “Woyzeck” incomplete because of what I believe the play symbolizes. Buechner’s death and incompletion of “Woyzeck” adds a very potent metaphysical aspect to this work if one reads it as a prediction of things to come. I don’t know if I believe in fate, but I would argue that “Woyzeck” was never supposed to be completed and Buechner was destined to die before completing it. This history behind “Woyzeck” is the perfectly sublime metaphor for the ever-becoming Germany. And thus, its writer himself was written into history’s play.

“Immer zu!” Don’t stop! The phrase literally translates as, “ever to!” but what it means is closer to, “Keep going!” or “Don’t stop!” Those are the words that haunt Woyzeck and I argue haunt Germany. He hears Marie say them to the Drum Major and he hears them in the woods. The voices in his head tell him to keep going! “Immer zu!” Don’t stop! I think that this is more than just an idiom for the German people. I think that this is Germany’s built in self-destruct mechanism. The “Immer zu” mentality is why Germany, like its capital Berlin, is ever-becoming and cursed never to become. Time and time again these people push themselves beyond their capacity because they say to themselves, “don’t stop!” If Julius Caesar were alive today, he would agree. The great military genius Julius Caesar found nothing but defeat after defeat when he led his Roman legions into Germania. In his writings he credited his defeats to the shear determination of the German warriors. I’m sure he would be familiar with the intention behind the “Immer zu!” mentality.

John Lennon heard the same thing when he took the Beatles to Hamburg in the early 1960’s. When the Beatles were starting out in Hamburg, they got a semi-permanent gig at a club called the Kaiserkeller. The club owner told them to as loud and as fast as they could for as long as they could. The Beatles in Hamburg all got into the habit of taking the drug Preludin—a type of speed—and playing loud and fast four hour shows. John Lennon recalled the club owner at the Kaiserkeller always yelling at the band, “Mach schau, mach schau!” and “Macht schnell!” “Make a big show and go faster!” “Immer zu!” After the Beatles achieved worldwide success, John Lennon always credited the band’s experience in Hamburg and learning the, “Macht schell! Mach schau!” German approach to musical performance as the major turning point for the band.

David Bowie came to Berlin in 1976 and began recording music at Hansa Studios. Hansa Studios faced the infamous Berlin Wall. The building was so close that the guard in the watchtower could look into the windows of the studio as David Bowie, Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, and producer Tony Visconti recorded the song that would become Bowie’s tribute to the Berlin Wall and the unofficial anthem of the city of Berlin: “Heroes.” The chorus of the song goes, “We can be heroes/just for one day.” However, when Bowie translated the song to German, he came up with, “Dann sind Wir Helden/nur für einen Tag,” which comes out to, “Then we are heroes/just for one day.” The difference in the translation to me reflects Bowie’s understanding of the German post-World War II, Cold War identity as he saw it. I prefer the German version of the song, just like the Germans did at the time and still do today, because there is no ambiguity about our metaphorical Hero-status. In German, “Dann sind Wir Helden” means we are heroes as opposed to the English version, which implies the possibility of becoming heroes. “We can” rather than, “we are.” Also in the English version Bowie sings, “I will be king and you will be queen,” whereas in the German version he sings, “Ich bin der König und du Königin,” “I am the king and you are the queen.” I don’t know if this is Bowie’s take on Nietzsche’s Ubermensch and Willen ze Macht (the will to power) but I believe that the reason why the song was and still is so popular in Germany and is an unofficial anthem of Berlin is because the message of actually being heroes—even if it means only for one day—has always been a reoccurring theme when analyzing German cultural identity. Bowie is singing about how it feels to succeed at willing oneself to power.

There is a major difference between the promise of “becoming” and the reality of “being;” especially to a people who feel they are ever-becoming and never to actually become. Just for one day, we are heroes. We can finally stop and take rest. Bowie’s “Helden” is a paean to the pay-off of “Immer zu!”

The tragedy of Buechner and his incompletion of “Woyzeck” is something straight out of Greek Mythology. Buechner said the playwright writes history twice. I argue that by writing “Woyzeck,” not only did he write history twice but he also wrote a future. From Nostradamus to Nosferatu, never has so simple a plot as a man murdering the mother of his child come to symbolize so much. The connection between Buechner and “Woyzeck” and the following German century is almost impossible to believe if it were not true historical fact. Reality my not have to make sense in the way fiction must as Mark Twain put it; but when real life does make sense, the truth is almost too difficult to believe and one may even mistake it as fiction.

“Woyzeck” is the play that never became. It hangs in history like a tapestry depicting one hundred years of the things to come for a people who spent the century trying to become. It represents a culture that spent that century saying to itself, “Immer Zu! Dann Sind Wir Helden…Nur Für Einen Tag!” And just as in “Woyzeck” and for Buechner himself, to say the very least, it all ended quite badly.

YEEZUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

INTRODUCTION:

POWER AND AUTHORITY—WHO GOT THE JUICE?

I love history. History has been one of my greatest passions ever since I was very young. Taking History of Theatre Part One and Part Two has been the only reliable and constant source of real joy for me during what has been a difficult year. No matter how badly my day or week has gone, the second I walk into a History of Theatre I sigh with relief because I know that for fifty minutes I am going to be happy, intellectually stimulated, learn something new and useful, and most importantly: I’ll be able to relax, which is something that I find very, very hard to do.

The most important thing that I will be taking away with me from this course is the importance of studying the history and specifically the culture implication of any art form like theatre. History is a story in both name and function: the life of every man has a dramatic narrative wherein the ultimate conflict is always death. In the arch of life it is what is in between that reads like a dramatic narrative. Personally, I find that a lot of the time the story of real life is more fascinating than fiction, even when it doesn’t make sense quite in the same way that fiction must. Sometimes though, real life makes perfect sense as if it truly were fiction. Whether or not life imitates art or vice versa, the best thing that I have learned in this course is that to study the history of theatre is to study culture and society.

Art—theatre in this specific case—is a historical account. A playwright sees the culture and society that they exist in and they create a dramatized account of what they see. This has been the M.O. of playwrights since the beginning of theatre and drama in Ancient Greece. Last semester, what was most interesting to me was the idea that if a playwright wants to discuss a touchy current event—like the Greek Playwrights in Athens during the Peloponnesian War—they write a play set in the past. When I studied TV Production at Emerson College, I understood this artistic choice but I did not know how common it was. I knew that the TV show MASH was on during the Vietnam War but was deliberately set a generation earlier during the Korean War, in order to comment on the War without directly speaking about it. I did not realize until last semester in History of Theatre Part One that this was a very common practice. From Aristophanes’ Lysistrata to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, this has always been a brilliant way to directly comment on whatever is going on in society in a way that keeps the playwright’s hands clean of making a specific hot take on current events. In this way, the playwright opens the floor to discussion of current events (like the Red Scare) via historical allusion and symbolism (like The Crucible) and thus invites everybody in on the conversation by giving the audience or readers a proxy by which to discuss current events. Even when a playwright wants to comment on what is going on in their own time, they don’t necessarily need to use historical allusion to make a powerful statement on the cultural zeitgeist. I argue that every dramatic work and every piece of art created is a first hand historical account—regardless of topic. What always interests me is the historical context of any dramatic or artistic work. I think that it is very important to find the significance of the historical context in which a dramatic or artistic work was created. What I have enjoyed most in this course is studying the way in which the history theatre tells us so much about the history of different cultures and societies. For example, I learned quite a bit about English History last semester; specifically English history from the Post-War of the Rose/Tudor/Elizabethan Era to the Reformation. Even though I’ve spent years studying English history and specifically that time period, I felt as though I understood why things happened in England at that time much better than I did before I read Marlowe and Aphra Behn. One could easily study the history of English Society and Culture from this time period by reading Shakespeare, Ben Johnson, Christopher Marlowe, and Aphra Behn because all of their works are all first hand accounts written while living in that place at that time.

We ended this semester in Modern Day America. Reading American playwrights is fascinating because America is still a young country. America is still the New World. If American Theatre truly comes into its own identity with the works of Eugene O’Neil, then that is to say that the tradition of what is identifiably American Theatre is less than a century old. But oh, what I’ve learned from this semester is that the tradition may be young, but it is rich. My fascination has been captured by these American plays and how I personally relate to them. Reading these plays, from The Crucible to In the Blood, has made me think about my own personal American Experience as a young man descended from those who founded this nation. I love this country and I am proud to not only be an American, but to also have roots that go all the way back to when the New World was discovered. That being said, there has always been something that has bothered me about America. I neither overly criticize nor blindly praise America and I am careful to walk that line but something has always effected me negatively when I look outside my window and take a real good, stone-cold sober look at America. We’ve got problems in this country but my uneasiness goes beyond that and until now I have not been able to put my finger on what specifically upsets me about America.

PART ONE

BLACK, WHITE, AND BRECHT

What is the American Dream? Ever since learning about Bertolt Brecht, I cannot stop seeing things through these new lenses that I have cleverly termed, “My Brechtacles.” Time and time again, I look at what is familiar to me and it appears strange. Since Brecht, the Verfremdungseffekt keeps slapping me right in the face out of absolutely nowhere. I saw a basketball game a few weeks ago and realized I was watching ten millionaires play a game that I myself love to play. Millionaires. Playing a game. I got Brecht wrecked when I realized I was watching these rich guys work. Millions of people all over the world, like myself, were actively engaged in seeing these rich guys throw a ball around. And we were all loving it! In realizing that I was literally watching millionaires at work I was stunned. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the game though. I had a good giggle about it in fact, but it sparked this new way that I started to think about America. I realized something I’d already known as the truth. It was all about the payday in America. That’s the American Dream and thus inseparably, the American Identity: The American Dream is to make as much money as possible in order to become an American in the eyes of other Americans and most importantly, those in power in America. Achieving The American Dream is the advancement of one’s social status via economic gain and thereby one may hope to progress all the way to the top of our system and once there be allowed to hold power and authority. Unlike any other nation in the world, in America, anybody from anywhere can become an American. We are the immigrant nation. Unlike in other nations, in America one can rise above the lowest social station and make it all the way to the top. Only in America can a man with nothing become as great as his ambitions and hard work allow. All of this is how this humble Fine Arts Correspondent has come up with defining the American Dream. In the simplest terms, the American Dream is to come to this land of opportunity and rise above your social status whether that means working hard so that your children’s’ lives as second generation Americans is better than your own or coming from a workless slum in Galloway or Qingdao and literally or figuratively striking gold and making it filthy, stinking rich. Anyone can get rich in America.

That’s what brought over so many immigrants in the first place. My family came here in the early 1600’s in order to make bank and live free or die trying. Back then—as we would like to believe now—the New World held endless possibilities for everyman willing to work for his place in the sun. Upon further review, that is a lie. The American Dream is not for everyone. White America has made The American Dream a deliberately unachievable goal for Black Americans.

This is the conclusion I have come to by analyzing American Society based on the plays we have read this semester. I have come to see America through a Marxist and Brechtian lens. The American narrative is one of Conflict Theory. This is evidenced by the dramatization of American reality by American playwrights from Eugene O’Neil to Suzan-Lori Parks. In analyzing American culture and society by both reading dramatic American works and looking at my own reality through a Brechtian perspective (Brechtacles!) I have come to the mortifying and uneasy conclusion that the American Dream is being and has been purposefully out of reach for Black Americans.

The way Brecht has affected my thinking about America is directly connected to the way in which I have read American plays. First of all, in reading The Crucible, I wondered about what in it Brecht himself would pick up and comment on. I read The Crucible with an eye out for some Conflict Theory; some economically motivated dramatic conflict. The main conflict is about the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Here, Arthur Miller writes about his experiences with the HUAC Trials going on in America in the early 1950’s by artfully using the Salem Witch Trials as an allusion to make comparisons between the mass hysteria that gripped the country both then and in the 1950’s. Today in our everyday lexicon we use the phrase “witch trial” to describe an aggressively unfair and unfounded hunt for imaginary enemies. However, as a history enthusiast, my question was, “why did this happen the way it did?” I was on the lookout for what caused these witch trials in The Crucible to get so out of hand. With my Brechtacles on, it was easy: the only reason Abigail’s sick love game gets out of control is because there is something to be gained economically by exploiting the situation that presents itself out of nowhere and out of nothing. If there were nothing to be gained economically from trying witches in Salem, this horror story of burning and hanging innocent people would not have happened. The rivalry between Putnam and Corey is evidence of this: Putnam wants Giles Corey to be found a witch and sentenced to death so that he can buy up his land. Even Rev. Parris is economically motivated. In the first scene he’s whining to anyone who will listen about how he isn’t paid nearly enough to keep his damn house warm. Proctor even points out that he’s a greedy bastard with his golden candlesticks proudly displayed on his alter. Parris is attempting a power move: if he can save Salem, maybe he’ll get that raise he feels he deserves! I know that Arthur Miller was probably not as focused as Brecht would be on the conflicts that rise from the economic exploitation of the situation, but they are prevalent nonetheless. If a situation as ridiculous as a bunch of teenaged girls calling people witches and dancing can be exploited for economic gain, then you can be sure people will try as hard as they possible to squeeze every penny they can out of it. There is money to be made even in a state of chaos and mass hysteria—and perhaps especially in a state of chaos and mass hysteria.

The point I’m trying to make in referencing my Brechtian take on The Crucible is to bolster my argument about what role monetary gain has always played in America. It may not be center stage, but that money is motivating all of the action. This play may not have been written by Puritans, but Miller did his research. The man was brilliant. He was an intellectual giant and I am sure he was aware that he was making a comment on economic exploitation by writing in the beef between Corey and Putnam. They spend a lot of time talking about that land—that’s not in there by mistake. In America, it is all about money because money means power and authority in this country.

PART TWO

THE VOICE OF THE EVER POWERLESS

What does it sound like? The voice of those without power? Without authority? What does the voice of the disenfranchised sound like? What is its timbre? What is its quality? How is it made? And most importantly, how does it make itself heard? How do those without power make themselves heard by those with the power? I tell you this: that voice in America, it’s got something of a Brechtian ring to it.

I propose two things: 1. That the voice of the powerless in America is inherently Brechtian (whether listened to or not) and 2. That it is when the voice of the powerless sounds its most Brechtian, then it is heard and listened to by those in power. Before I go into it though, I want to preface this all by saying that the voice right now writing this essay, the voice of your humble Fine Arts Correspondent: Ted Esten, is the voice of a very white man whose heritage is one half witch-burning, Buckle-hatted nonsense and another half Bogtrotting Braggadocio—terrifying as this may be, this is the voice of one of those in power. I am White America. As well educated, well read, sophisticated, and trying to be as conscientious as I can possibly be, I am still White America. So this is what I hear and this is what I see. (As an aside, I would say the best way to describe my socio-economic status would be “Literati” from the Ancient Chinese class system Pre-Ming Dynasty).

My first proposal was that the voice of those without the power in America are inherently Brechtian. First, I’ll explain what I mean by, “Brechtian”: what I mean when I use Brechtian as an adjective is simply to imply a connection to Bertolt Brecht’s dramatic style and his political and dramatic ideas, ideologies, and agenda. What I mean when I’m not describing a work of art as “Brechtian,” I’m trying to say that that thing has a connection with Marxist Conflict theory and Brecht’s Anti-Capitalist Agenda and thus could easily be portrayed or dramatized in the style of Bertolt Brecht.

The voice of those without power in America—those without power in this context being Black Americans—has an inherently Brechtian nature when you look at American history. Until 1863, black people in America were not human beings; they were property. By 1863 when Lincoln declared the Emancipation Proclamation, Africans had been brought to this country as slaves for more than three hundred years. Three hundred years. Black people had been in America just as long as white people. But only after three hundred years were they officially all legally considered human beings rather than property. In America, because slavery was a racial thing, we have this combined problem of racism mixed with socio-economic inequality. Racism in America is directly connected to economics because for three hundred years we saw black people as an economic commodity—not human but property to be bought, sold, or possessed. It is not just in our national subconscious but it is also in our Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson finished the Declaration of Independence with a phrase that he stole and then modified from John Locke’s Treatise on Government. In the Declaration of Independence, it is stated that the role our government shall play is the protector of our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. This is what it says on paper in America, however the original phrase that John Locke used was, “life, liberty, and property.” That word “property” was dropped and changed by Jefferson to, “pursuit of happiness.” This idea of both “property” and “happiness” being one in the same is a big part of our American Identity. The idea that black people were at one point in our history considered to be property is stuck in our National subconscious. For three hundred years, black people were not people. Black people were property. There used to be a dollar value on a black man’s life—and it’s that dollar value that is what so sadly began the African American historical narrative.

The African American historical narrative—as a disenfranchised part of our population—is directly connected to the important role of economics in the American Narrative and Identity. The historical narrative of African Americans is extremely Brechtian.

My second point I wanted to make was that I believe that the voice of the powerless that is most often listened to by those with power is the voice that is the most Brechtian. Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, to this day are the best selling Rappers and Hip-hop Artists of all time. Both of them are considered the greatest rappers of all time. To this day, people fight about whether Tupac or Biggie is the greatest rapper of all time. I’ve literally spent a full year of my life in my spare time actively investigating this nationally polarizing question. Tupac or Biggie?? WHO YA GOT?! I have come to this conclusion: the wrong question is being asked because you cannot compare the two. (At this time, ladies and gentlemen, put on your Brechtacles and buckle up!) Both of the men are poets first and foremost, they are artists, you have to understand them as artists in the purest sense in order to fully analyze their very different talents. Tupac was a politically motivated poet writing about social injustice who found a medium where he could reach the most listeners and became a very talented rapper because of his passion, which came from telling his own story and talking about his own experience. So the way I think about Tupac is that he is one of the greatest American Poets of all time and I personally think that the way he captured his experience as an American, in a voice that was truly American, in a way that more people can relate to more than any other American poet’s work. There is a Brechtian quality to Tupac’s work in that his themes are all about social and racial injustice and meant to incite people to do something and change society. However, the thing is, is that Tupac told his own story. Tupac Amaru Shakur was his real name. Tupac did not actively try to put on a Brechtian performance; rather he tried to articulate himself and be as true as possible.

Biggie Smalls, on the other hand, I believe to be the greatest rapper because he had a natural talent for rapping and that was how he got his start in hip-hop. Biggie’s real name was Christopher Wallace from Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. His mother Valetta Wallace was a Jamaican immigrant and worked as a schoolteacher. I would contend that Biggie is the most Brechtian musician of all time. Christopher Wallace was just this goofy fat kid who used to hang out on the corner and other kids would ask him to rap for them and do freestyles because he was a naturally gifted rapper. He used to only rap for the other kids if they bought him food. He’d also charge neighborhood kids who would pay him to play the Sega Genesis video game that his mom got him one Christmas. However, once he grew up, he took on a whole new stage persona: The Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls. His first album—and only album released while he was alive—was called “Ready to Die” and on the album cover was a photograph of a black baby against an all white silkscreen background. The album was very much like a concept album—not unlike Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars a la David Bowie. The album started out with a skit in which Biggie Smalls is released from jail and there follows this narrative about his life as the crack slingin’, gat-packin’, gansta, The Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls. It’s just like Mackie Messer!!! Biggie created a character and told his character’s story, which was all about his struggles as a poor, inner-city, black man in America (which Biggie had experienced in his real life) and how he dealt drugs and shot people up all the time and was in and out of jail in between short, volatile stints on parole. Biggie never shot anybody. I don’t even think he had a gun—or at least never walked around with it on his person very often. Biggie’s musical genius and artistic brilliance is in the pure Brechtian nature of his work. And more importantly, the way Biggie invested in his stage persona changed hip-hop—Biggie had the highest grossing posthumously released album of all time, which was called, “Life After Death.”

After Tupac and Biggie were murdered (at ages 25 and 24 respectively), there was a void in hip-hop the same way there was in rock and roll when The Beatles broke up. The direction that everything moved in was in Biggie’s direction. Many new rappers copied Biggie’s style: they created a stage persona and exaggerated and dramatized living a certain type of life style. Even Tupac and Biggies contemporaries like Jay-Z, Diddy, and Dr. Dre went out and backed new artists that fell into the Biggie/Brecht performance style of hip-hop. This was what made the money and now all three men (Diddy, Jay-Z, and Dr. Dre) are in Forbes Magazine because they’re three of the most successful businessmen in the world. And anybody who knows anything about hip-hop knows that the money comes in once you’ve got the white kids listening.

The Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls is a character that could easily be written into Suzan-Lori Parks’ In the Blood. The true Brechtian nature of In the Blood was what caught my attention to this connection between African American Art and Brechtian Dramatic Themes especially regarding African American Art that white people enjoy and actively seek out. Brechtian Dramatization of reality is what gets white America’s attention. The voice of black America, when it comes through art, much of the time addresses socio-economic and racial problems in America. When white America does listen and pay attention, it is most often to the work that has something very Brechtian in its nature. It really is the story telling that white America seems to be attracted to and that’s why we like rappers so much. They let us in on their stage persona’s lives. They break the fourth wall all the time. They love their fans and let them know it. They have these awesome stories to tell, which are usually exaggerated dramatizations of real life. In the Blood is a much more captivating story because Parks takes a street scene we see everyday and brings it to life. However, I think that where African American Art peels off from Brecht, takes a complete turn, and does something even more interesting is where the Verfremdungseffekt is considered.

Although the familiar does appear strange to us in the role switching in In the Blood, what I actually think a lot of African American Art does instead is it makes an effort to make the unfamiliar become personal. I call this the answer to the Verfremdungseffekt: this is, “Der Wiedererkennungseffekt,” or, “the familiarization effect.”

Take Biggie Smalls and In the Blood and put them both on a Brechtian checklist: they both have storyteller performance qualities, they both address socio-economic and racial injustice, and they both appeal to the audience to right the wrongs in society. In spite of all of this though, the goal is to not appeal to the audience’s pathos by using the Verfremdungseffekt, but rather by using Der Wiedererkennungseffekt. Black artists’ goal a lot of the time is just to be understood. To make sense of their American Experience using an artistic medium. What it is like to be black and American is an extremely difficult thing for white people to understand. It is through Art that white people can come closest to empathizing and understanding. Black American artists don’t try to appeal to white people, it just so happens that white people enjoy black American’s work when it has these types of qualities I’m talking about in them. The familiarization that white America feels when a story is being told—even if it is dramatized or even complete fiction like In the Blood—is the voice of the powerless being heard by those with the power. The effort to make familiar is very evident in In the Blood in the referencing of Hawthorne’s Scarlett Letter. An American Dramatist is referencing another well-known American author’s famous work in a creative, brilliant, and powerfully moving way.

The true racism that keeps black Americans from achieving the American Dream is the subtle, subliminal, subconscious racism. The type of racism I’m talking about is the one that keeps a lot of people from thinking about Hip-Hop as music and a legitimate form of art. People don’t talk about Hip-Hop the way they talk about other music. It’s dangerous. It’s bad. It isn’t music. Rap isn’t singing—it’s not a talent. It’s that kind of racism that is keeping black America under white America’s heel. But paradoxically, hip-hop has been vastly outselling all other types of music pretty consistently for the last 25 years. It is a great Marxist irony that it is the poorest, most disenfranchised, portion of the population generates an insane amount of money and makes many people rich in every industry in this country and I’m not just talking about entertainment. But the greatest tragedy in America is found in the all too common refrain repeated by so many rappers since Tupac and Biggie blew up hip-hop, “Even if you’re rich, you’re still a nigger.” This is a raw way to put it, but it is the sad truth that that’s the way it is in America. Successful hip-hop artists put it that way, I put it that white America won’t let black Americans achieve the American Dream—no matter how much money one might earn from hard work.

In Fences, I couldn’t help but think that the character Troy was a man who struggled trying to make a living in America the Booker T. Washington way: social equality via economic equality. Washington said, “Cast down your buckets where you stand,” at the Atlanta Compromise. Troy tried to do things the Booker T. Washington way and tried to force his ideas on his son by telling him to forget college and football and go keep your job and find a trade so you’ll always have work. Labor may create all wealth, but it does not create equality. I don’t know whether or not August Wilson wanted to comment on the casting down of one’s bucket, but I certainly thought a lot about it when I read Fences. The way I read it was that the tragedy of Troy was the tragedy of doing things the Booker T. Washington way. I think that Troy represents the failure of the Atlanta Compromise. And when I thought about that, I thought about another piece that was not a subtle criticism but a work that completely proved that Booker T. Washington was wrong: Kanye West’s 2013 album, “Yeezus.”

Yeezus is a fascinating album. You can tell if someone’s an idiot by how they feel about Yeezus. If somebody doesn’t like Yeezus, or respect it as a piece of musical and artistic genius, they’re a complete idiot. Kanye West fused hip-hop with Neo-Classical musical conventions and made a concept album that was a parody of a minstrel show that threw the Verfremdungseffekt in everybody’s face. Yeezus, or as I like to call it, “Yeezus Christ Superstar,” is something of a Brechtian concept album. It is an indictment of white America’s withholding of the American Dream from black Americans. Kanye performs the entire album like it’s a minstrel show—but a different type of minstrel show in which the black character is rich. What he did with Yeezus was he portrayed the way white people see rich black people. And in a very Brechtian manner, he remains critical and hyper self aware while telling this minstrel show character’s story: even though his lyrics are crude and crass they are so clever and well crafted that they are hilarious on a very highly intellectual level. And it’s all rapped over this post-modern neo-classical music that Kanye composed and produced himself that just puts Stravinsky and Phillip Glass to absolute shame. Kanye has mastered what I find to be Stravinsky’s neo-classical, unlistenable, dissonant, irritating, headache-style and made it absolutely rock. The album’s hit. It came out two years ago and people still talk about it. People still fight about it. But as amazing of a triumph as it is both artistically and in its cultural criticisms, it is a sad demarcation of time that reminds us that we have a long way to go before our race problem in America is solved.

Kanye West and Troy proved Booker T. Washington wrong: no matter how hard you work or how much money you make, white America will never let you anywhere near the power. The dream. No matter what, white America will not let black Americans have a shot at the American Dream.

A few weeks ago, a well-known professional basketball player named Thabo Sefolosha was beaten so badly by the NYPD that they broke his leg. Imagine Bertolt Brecht seeing that headline: Millionaire Beaten in New York City By Police—Cops break his leg. A millionaire! To think, in New York of all cities, in America of all countries, a millionaire is beaten until his leg is broken by the police. A millionaire! But it was because he was black. It didn’t matter that Sefolosha was rich and famous. It didn’t matter that he’s actually from Switzerland. He’s black and he was in a situation where the police felt they could get away with excessive force. I think Brecht would have a cringe at that. The Verfremdungseffekt in action: the police don’t beat a poor person in a bad neighborhood—they beat a world famous basketball star who’s extremely wealthy in Midtown Manhattan. If he read that headline or heard that story, I think Brecht would make a kind of small, morbid joke about being a bit relieved and less concerned about our greed and disgusting love of money getting in the way of justice in America.