Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Know Your Audience

Me:  Okay, Knights, at this point in the song I want a protective stance, so let's have you guys form a circle back-to-back.

The knights make a U-shape.

Me:  No, a circle.

The knights make a horseshoe shape.

Me:  A circle, guys.  An actual circle.  Make a circle.  I make circle shapes with my hands.

The knights scooch in closer to each other.

Me:  No, just close the back part.

They do.

Me:  Now face out...

Three of them turn to face in.

Me:  No, out.  Away from each other.

Those three turn to face out.  At the same time, the two in the back step out of the circle to face the audience instead.

Me:  Face away from each other, but still in a circle.

They scooch closer together. 

Me: Inspiration strikes.  Weathertop.  Stand like you're on Weathertop.

Knights:  Ohhhh!

They immediately form a circle back to back.

Knights:  Why didn't you just say that to begin with?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Hamlet" and "Black Odyssey"

The week of "Little Prince" turned out to be a theater- heavy week.  On Tuesday I took my students to DCTC to see "Hamlet".

We spent most of January studying that play, and I was really hoping for a good production to cap the unit.  Like Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, when a production of "Hamlet" is anything less than great, it's unbearable to watch, if only because they last so very long.

Happily, this was a good production.  It's really, really good.  Unfortunately though, there was a mentally and physically handicapped student in the audience who choked and coughed and yelped and wheezed and made so much noise that people sitting sections away we're turning around and craning their heads to see who was making so much noise.  To my dismay, his caretaker refused to remove him from the theater.  I could be more forgiving of this choice if I thought he was getting anything from being there, but it was clear that he could neither see not hear the show.  I had to work hard to follow the lines, so I can only imagine how hard it was for my students to pay attention to what was for most of them their first Shakespeare production.  Fara and Tammy took some of my extra tickets, and the incident did prompt an interesting discussion for us at intermission about inclusion, but at the end of the day it was a play about the kid making Gollum-noises, and that's really too bad.

A few days later, Fara and I were back at DCTC to see "black odyssey", a new play that sets Homer's poem in the modern era in African-American cultures.  It's a clever play (particularly with the name play- Pa Sidon, Athena becomes Auntie T, Odysseus's wife is called Nella P., and Telemachus becomes Malachi) but the script is heavy-handed (they brought up Treyvon Martin at least four seperate times, which made it feel more like an immediate guttural reaction to the event that must have happened as the author was writing the play, rather than a measured reaction tempered by time) and lacks the grace of good story-telling.  Fara studied West African mythologies, and she pointed out some of the similarities between that belief system and that of the Ancient Greeks.  I am curious to read more about them myself.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sorry, Can't Blog Now...

... Too busy turning giant stuffed lions into cows:

And sewing costumes out of all of this fabric:

And making Holy Hand Grenades of Antioch:

Two weeks until curtain!

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

"The Little Prince" at Lookingglass Theatre

I saw a production of "The Little Prince" at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival a few years ago.  I was not especially impressed, and I ascribed most of the fault to the source material.  Like "Alice in Wonderland", it's a story without much of a story - an episodic travel tale.

But Lookingglass pulled off a version of "Alice" that is certainly my favorite version of the story, so I had every faith that if anyone could make a play out of "Prince", they could.

And it was a good production.  What I particularly love about Lookingglass is their ability to create spectacle through simplicity - a flock of birds from four people in open white button-down shirts moving in harmony, a universe of stars from a curtain made of dangling small square mirrors, a simple snake puppet dashing across the stage on the end of a puppeteer's stick, a galaxy of planets suggested by bubbles and brightly-colored balls.  You know how good dancers make routines look effortless, easy?  That's the pleasure (and to some degree the danger) of Lookingglass - I walk away from every production thinking, "I can do that!"

Their use of acrobatics worked well as the Prince traveled to different planets.  Each new planet used the idea of an actor and a globe in a different way - the king on his throne in his large robe hung from the ceiling; the accountant likewise descended on the fly system, but he  precariously held himself inside a skeletal sphere made of metal hoops, constantly shifting in his cage to assume new positions to type; the lamplighter was lowered above the audience on a globe set on an axis that kept him perpetually running in place above our heads.  One of the best moments in the show was a silent planet-dweller who crossed the stage balancing on a large ball while soap bubbles filled the stage, the constantly shifting and adjusting movements required to balance on a loose ball giving her the intended appearance of a drunk stumbling by.

Like the story itself, I find my memories of this production consist of moments and characters.  The choice to have the Aviator draw on the set itself (a large curving white plane that worked as both dunes and paper) worked, and the actress playing the fox did an outstanding job with the character despite her using a terrible (and unnecessary) French accent.  The scene where the Prince tamed the fox was simple and lovely and much more interesting than the requisite Christ-figure ending of the story.  It was the best version of "The Little Prince" I can imagine, and I'm glad I had the chance to see it.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Chicago - Sunday

Thanks to a kerfuffle from American Airlines, my parents wound up switching to a flight leaving at almost the same time as Jason's.  While I was glad they found a way home, it meant that I wound up with a morning to myself in Chicago.

We had breakfast together, said our good-byes, and I leisurely got myself ready for the day.  Once I was bundled up, I headed out in search of shopping and second breakfast.

The store I had in mind didn't open until 11, so I wandered around until I suddenly came upon a building I recognized:

Eataly.  I saw an article about this indoor Italian marketplace/eatery last fall when it first opened.  I had time to kill and freezing cold cheeks, so I headed inside.

They had fresh produce, kitchenware, a coffee shop, and the noises of a restaurant upstairs; but I found myself drawn to a counter on the right:

A Nutella bar!  I almost passed it up, but then I recalled that I am my father's daughter and that I am out of town and therefore allowed to eat hazelnut-chocolate gooey bread.  So I did.

About two bites in, I realized that I lacked milk.  Fortunately:

they were all too eager to supply me with "the best American milk."  In cute little pints, nonetheless:

I managed to eat just one slice before the sweetness overpowered me, so I tossed the other, licked off my gooey fingers, and headed out to a nearby French-styled miscellany shop.

My intentions were to browse, but then I remembered that I lacked a proper egg cup.  I have never cooked a soft-boiled egg in my life, but I want a proper egg cup, you see, because I dream of having a leisurely breakfast of dipping toast into a soft-boiled egg while reading a long novel in a cottage in France.

I usually dream of such things while I'm scarfing down a banana between classes.

And so I needed a proper egg cup, and I suspected this may be a good place to find one.  So it was!  I picked out a charming ceramic one painted with brown and yellow designs.  Definitely something I could get home in my carry-on.

And then I saw the bowls.

Knowing that ceramics make packing a bit trickier, I tried to talk myself out of them.  I did a terrible job.  After all,
a) I really liked the designs,
b) new dishware makes me excited to eat at home,
c) since they are Especially For Me bowls, I can get away with only one in each size, and
d) I had already decided exactly what each one was for, which is practically like naming them; and therefore I was getting them, bag restrictions be damned.

For soup, for salad, for dreamy breakfast eggs,
and for yogurt with dark chocolate almonds and blueberries.

I had just enough time for some traditional vacation grocery shopping at:

Trader Joe's

I picked up a few cartons of my favorite almonds and a chicken wrap for lunch:

I also bought a reusable bag, since I figured it would hold more than my travel purse and yet still count as only a "personal item."  After swinging back by the hotel to pick up my suitcase and squeeze the almonds in amongst my clothes, I tied the Trader Joe's bag to my suitcase and headed out to the train station.

After a few blocks I came upon this memorial.  It looked so much more appropriate covered in snow than how I usually see it, I stopped to take a photo:

An older gentleman with white hair, an enormous furry hat, and wire spectacles came up to me as I pulled out my cell phone.  In a perfect German accent he said, "You know if you tie the bag the other way, it will not drag on the ground and cause you problems."

I realized he thought I had stopped out of luggage frustration.  I tried to explain that the bag actually keeps slipping around when I position them the way he was suggesting and that my method was working just fine, but he brushed off my explanations, "You see, the way you do it may make it rub on the ground and wear out."

I gave up trying to explain and just thanked him.  He nodded, smiled at me, and turned to go.  I took the picture and as I lowered my phone, I realized he was at my side again.  "I am an engineer you see," he said.  "I can't help but think about these things."  And then he walked away a second time.

"Of course you are an engineer," I thought as I resumed my walk without changing my bag tying system.  With that look and accent, he could have stepped right out of this movie:

It was a cold walk, but the skies were clear and I paused to admire the effect of the snowstorm on river, a city made of glass and ice:

Then it was back on the train, back on a plane, and back to an airport filled with orange and blue fans who would soon be severely disappointed.

P.S.  I know I skipped the show review.  I only had time tonight for one entry, and I picked the easier one to write.  Hopefully tomorrow I can wrap up the trip.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Chicago - Saturday

We met my parents for breakfast, a bit bleary-eyed from the late night but ready for the day.  Given the forecast:

we planned indoor activities.  First stop: the Art Institute:

Rather Narnian, don't you think?

Icicles in the courtyard

They had a special exhibition on about the influence of the Greeks on the art of Ancient Egypt.  The changes made to their mythology was fascinating, and I enjoyed seeing side-by-side comparisons like the one below,

Carving made pre-Greek rule
Carving made post-Greek takeover

The next exhibition we saw was a series of winter scenes from the Japanese wood block artist Hiroshige.  Appropriate, given the weather outside and upcoming summer travel plans.

Jason and I needed to leave to meet friends for lunch, but we had just enough time to see Chagall's America Windows.

A series of scenes depicting the arts, they were created for the Bicentennial.  I loved the look of fields of blue glass.


Jason and I split off at this point to hunt for a cab to Wicker Park.  Vanessa, a friend from Jason's study abroad program in France, and her husband Stephen met us for lunch at a new restaurant, the Carriage House.

The food was not spectacular, but the company was nice and we once again lingered at the table talking long after the rest of the crowds departed.

Fried chicken, biscuit, potatoes, and sausage gravy with pimento cheese

Vanessa mentioned that a nearby bakery sells kronuts, so we walked over there after lunch to fulfill Jason's mother's command that he participate in the recent food fad.  The bakery only had one left, filled with strawberry jam and topped with marzipan frosting.

It was far too sweet for my taste, although I could imagine the appeal of dipping a fresh, plain one into a warm breakfast beverage.

Vanessa, Jason, and me
After hugs good-bye, we hopped in a cab and arrived back at the hotel with just enough time to eat some gourmet popcorn, take a quick nap (well, Jason napped), and change for dinner.  It had stopped snowing at this point; but the streets were quick slushy, which meant Jason could show off his mini-galoshes:

We couldn't spend a whole 48 hours in a Michelin-city and not eat Michelin, so I made pre-theater dinner reservations at Everest.  True to form, we had a difficult time finding the actual restaurant.  Once we found the entrance to the Stock Exchange building in which it's located, we had to be buzzed in by a security guard and take two different elevators up to the 40th floor.

The service was attentive; the staff was eager to please and eager to ensure that we made our show in time; the views were very good and improved as the meal went on and the fog lifted:

And, finally, the food was delicious.  The stand-out of the night was Dad's oysters, but all of the appetizers and desserts were stellar.  I was not as impressed with my main course, but the foie gras that melted in my mouth made up for it.

Amuse-boches, from left to right:
Salmon floating in sauce, purred artichoke, a savory pastry, and onion emulsion with bacon and bread crumbs

Closeup of the pastry - look at the wee caper topper!

Composition of Winter Garden Greens

Sautéed New York State Foie Gras, Confit Persimmon, Picon Jus

Filet of Wild Sturgeon Wrapped in Prosciutto, Marinated Cabbage, Pinot Noir

Ice Cream
Alsace Vacherin: Bartlett Pear and Chocolate Glacé, Vanilla Bean Coulis 

Hot Chocolate "hand crafted by Jacques Torres from the finest cocoa beans in the Dominican Republic"
with fruit gelatin, chocolate-covered cinnamon marshmallow, and petite anise cookie

Just as we began sipping our deliciously-bitter hot chocolate, our waitress (played by Jane Lynch) appeared to remind us that we had a show to see.  We hurried to polish off the remaining sweets, bid farewell to the entire restaurant staff who turned out to see us off in a Hello, Dolly kind-of way, retrieved our coats, and descended to find a cab to get to the Lookingglass Theatre:

Their sign looks more ice than glass in this weather.
However, my description of the show (and Sunday) will have to wait until tomorrow night.  I have school tomorrow, it's past my bedtime, and, as you may have surmised, the last two night, while fun, were not sleep-filled.

Weekend in Chicago - Friday

Unsurprisingly, a snow day is a wonderful way to begin a weekend trip.  Not only did I have ample time to sleep and finish packing, but I also had time to take care of some housekeeping tasks and adult chores (car registration, ordering contact lenses, etc.).  I also had ample time to make my trek to the airport while avoiding rush hour.  It wasn't snowing, but the roads were incredibly slushy and my car is an icy, muddy mess.

DIA was crowded, but the flight to Chicago was smooth.  I arrived at Midway and took the train into town.  The hotel was a little under a mile away from the metro stop, so I pulled on my gloves and scarf and set out to enjoy the sights of Chicago in winter.  There were ice chunks floating on the river:

so it seemed appropriate that some people still had Christmas lights out:

Mom and Dad arrived at the hotel just minutes after I walked in, and Jason was only 30 minutes behind; so once we all rendezvoused, we headed out to dinner at the nearby Weber grill:

(No, it did not get lighter - I took this picture this morning.)

The food was tasty and they let us linger at our table long after finishing the meal, which gave us a pleasant and warm place to catch up and swap stories.

Roasted beets, goat cheese, and pecans - my favorite!

Pulled pork, ribs, blue cheese coleslaw, and cornbread

Berries and cream for dessert

When the waitress nicely asked if we needed anything else before she went home for the night, we took that as our cue to leave.  After a brisk walk back to the hotel, we bade good night to my parents and indulged in our traditional cram-four-months-of-conversation-into-the-first-night ritual.  It was disrupted a bit by a round of very-unhappy GI problems on my part (which I blame on the sandwich I had for lunch at DIA), and I made a midnight dash to the hotel lobby to purchase some Pepto Bismal (the only choice available).  It was enough to allow us to keep the conversation going until we finally called it quits a little before 4 AM.