Tuesday, December 31, 2013


After a delightful Christmas, which I'll elaborate on later, I followed up with two of my annual holiday traditions - car repairs and illness!

I was planning on returning home today, but I came down with a nasty chest cold two days ago that's been a beast to shake.  I'm lucky enough, though, to be in a place with nice people who bring me juice and cough syrup and who don't mind a houseguest who sleeps all the time.

I also appreciate the timing of this - a lost voice and a wracking cough are not going to be options once school starts again.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Breather

Why, hello there, strangers!

My apologies for the long silence on this front.  As happens at this time of year, work exploded and I found myself with barely the time to breathe, let alone blog.  Happily, though, after far too many days packed so full that I fall asleep while eating a fast-food dinner three hours past my bedtime, the end of the term is in sight.

Today, for example, is a Teacher Work Day.  Even happier, it is a Teacher Work Day With No Scheduled Meetings.  This meant I got to wake up at the humane hour of 6:30, eat breakfast, wrap up a few projects at home, drive to school during daylight hours while admiring the trees in the canyon every one of which looks like it was perfectly dipped in white frosting, and tie up all kinds of end-of-the-semester loose ends.  I'm still at school, but I only have one recommendation letter to go before I run away for the rest of 2013.


As crazy as it's been, I do love accomplishing so many things.  Some of these accomplishments I can't show you yet, for they are Things To Be Revealed on Christmas.  I can tease you, though, with a sight like this project-in-process:

There's a treasure under those tomes!

Others I have been all too happy to document for your viewing delight.  Please to enjoy a partial list of accomplishments:

One - End of Term
As of yesterday, my classes are all finished and my grades are posted.  My speech class in particular this term bonded as a group.  They started referring to themselves as a "Speech Family" a few weeks ago and have bemoaned the end of the class since mid-November; so I made sure to plan time the last day for a proper "check out" session for them.  They shared many kind and generous words, a few tears, and a group hug.

Cute little buggers.

Two - Auditions
Despite all of nature and transportation conspiring against us, we managed to hold auditions and cast the musical!  After four years working together, Jesse, Rachel, and I have a pretty good system in place.  Each year Rachel prints out thumbnails of every auditioner's headshots and tabs of the roles so we can sort them visually as we discuss possible casting.

(No spoilers here - this is before we did any sorting)
With the biggest turnout yet, we wound up with an excellent cast.  We actually had choices for some of the leads roles!  I'm ecstatic to work with these kids on this play, and they're all psyched as well.

The snow-days put us three days behind schedule, so we only had time for two rehearsals before the break.  Last Thursday was slated for our first official read-through.  Sadly, Jesse and I also had a mandatory faculty meeting that afternoon.  We gave the materials to a couple of our seniors and asked them to keep everyone in the auditorium and under control until we got there.

Naturally, this was the faculty meet that ran 15 minutes longer than any other.  I was a bundle of anxiety by the time we were released, and as Jesse and I approached the back doors of the auditorium, we could hear the kids through the walls.

"That's not a good sign, is it?" I asked him.  He shook his head.  With visions of kids parkouring off the walls and balcony and running completely amok, we opened the doors and parted the curtains to find...

...the entire cast sitting in chairs in a circle on stage, sheet music propped up on music stands in front of them, singing along to the soundtrack for the show.

"You guys!" I exclaimed, dropping my bags and boxes in utter delight, "You're rehearsing?  Look at you!  You're rehearsing!  You are totally getting cupcakes for this!"

They cheered.  And so,

Three - Cupcakes
Mom talked me into getting knight-themed decorations at a darling cupcake shop near their office over Thanksgiving, assuring me that the students would deserve such a treat at some point during the show.  The cast earned them far sooner than I anticipated.  I spent Sunday afternoon making cupcakes for the cast for our last practice Monday.

They're pretty freakin' adorable, if I do say so myself:

They're also thematic.  Knight toppers for Spamalot, bones and red sprinkles for the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, "mud"  frosting for the scene with Dennis, and vanilla cake because England (and Mountain Town) is so white.

I thought about adding a bit of coconut as well, but I was worried about allergies.

They were greatly admired and quickly eaten.

Four - Field Trip

I took my Advanced Drama class downtown last week for a Day of Drama.  We started off with a workshop on stereotyping and bullying:

One group's tableaux

Then saw a matinee of Jackie and Me, a new play about Jackie Robinson.

The play was well-produced, if a bit fluffy.  My students loved it.  One of them is an avid baseball fan, and when he walked into the theater and saw the stage floor his jaw dropped.

The entire floor was painted with vintage baseball cards,
as you can see in this publicity still.
"You like it, Jeff?" I asked.

"I'm geeking out pretty hard, Waterhouse," he replied, without taking his eyes off the sight.

After a talk-back with the actors, we grabbed lunch on the 16th Street Mall, then headed back to the Theater Academy for a second workshop, this time about slapstick stage combat.

Playing Columbian Hypnosis

Practicing dying

I would have taken more photos of the combat itself, but the instructor pulled me in to partner with one of my students since we had an odd number.  Ryan took great delight in being taught how to punch, slap, and pull his teacher's hair and nose.

Five- Speech Meet

No photos this time, but we did go to another speech meet last Saturday.  At only 1.5 hours away from the school, it's the closest meet of the year.  Unfortunately, the meet itself ran long and it wound up being a solid 14 hour day.  Oy.  The kids did well, as usual, and we came home with quite a few awards.  Three meets to go!

Six - Friends and Food

The past few weeks have been a lot of work, but I did manage to squeeze in a little bit of fun along the way.  I babysat Jack and Sam one night at my house and introduced Jack to the joys of The Sword in the Stone (Remember this scene?  I certainly do!  I would say that I wish I could pack like that, but honestly, the chaos of it would drive me absolutely crazy in my pre-trip anal retentiveness.)

I also enjoyed a brunch with Cindy at Toast, a restaurant near me that I've always wanted to try.  Happily, they had good service and tasty food.  They also had a great accommodation for the indecisive-types like myself - the Pancake Flight that gave me four different pancake types!

Peach Crumble with fresh berries, Key Lime, Banana Chocolate Chip,
and up in the corner you can see the Sausage and Gravy Pancake.

Sure, I only ate, like, a third of the food, but it was delicious!

Last night I also escaped school early enough to run errands and then go out to dinner with Fara.  We went to Bonefish Grill for a tasty meal and excellent conversation.  As happens every time I see Fara, I came away with a fresh bibliography of books to read.  At least this time there's hope of reading them with a break nigh upon me!

And now I must turn back to my work.  One recommendation letter to go and then I'm off to finish a craft, wrap presents, and pack for Grand Junction.  See you on the other side of the mountain!

Friday, December 06, 2013


"Due to freezing temperatures and transportation issues, the district will be closed today, Friday, December 6th."

- Phone call this morning, 6:04 AM

Thursday, December 05, 2013

A Mess of Inconvenience

Several weeks into the last school year, we had a doozy of a weather forecast.  Two feet of snow, freezing temperatures, big ol' blizzard's a-comin', 100% chance of snow.  Following the lead of the surrounding districts, our superintendent called a snow day the night before the storm hit.

And then it didn't.

Oh, it snowed... an inch, maybe two.  Like everyone else, I thoroughly enjoyed having a snow day that I could run errands in without fear for my life on the roads.

The downside was that we spent the rest of the school year battling our way to school on days that absolutely should have been called off.  We didn't have a single other snow day the rest of the year, despite several occasions where we really should have.

This year has been weirdly mild.  Aside from one day of snow (which, naturally, was the day of my Advanced Drama class play), it's been weirdly warm and very dry.  And then came this week.

Monday was the informational workshop for the musical auditions (Have I mentioned yet what we're doing?  Monty Python's Spamalot. The amateur rights were just barely released, and it's going to be tremendous fun to produce), and Tuesday was a prep day/speech practice.  Tuesday is also when we all started laying bets on whether we'd have a snow day on Wednesday.  The forecasts all predicted a 100% chance of snow, 9-24 inches total, and frigid temperatures.  And, indeed, when I crossed the parking lot to the auditorium after school the flakes were already beginning to fall.

I slept restlessly, as I do when I anticipate a phone call at any moment.  To my surprise, when my alarm rang and I peeped outside and found that there was indeed a solid snow cover and flakes were still falling, I still hadn't gotten a call.

I got ready for the day and made my way slowly to school, anticipating a call at any moment.  Nope.  Not even a delayed start.

Most of the buses were late, and some students stayed home with "weather-related" listed as their parental excuses on the attendance roster.  I tried to keep my class focused on the task at hand, but they were angry about the lack of a snow day, nervous about the auditions that afternoon, and distracted by the worsening weather visible through my classroom windows.

The view when I first arrived.  There's a highway under that whiteness.

30 minutes into the school day, the superintendent emailed an apology to the entire district.  "It should have been a delayed start or a snow day," he said.  "No, duh," we collectively thought, even while I marveled at the fact that he issued an apology.

30 minutes after that, we got the word - they were sending everyone home early.  Halfway through second period we were collectively released into the storm.

I reassured the anxious students who came running to ask about auditions before leaving.  "It's fine," I said.  "We'll just move everything over a day.  No problem."

Rachel, meanwhile, was scrambling to find a babysitter.  Mom was supposed to fly out to Denver that morning to watch the grandchildren while Rachel came up for auditions and call-backs, but her flight was cancelled due to the weather.  I was glad - I had been worried about her traveling in any manner in this storm.

I stopped to make the copies I needed for 1st period,
and the parking lot completely emptied within those ten minutes.

I took advantage of the school's paved parking lot to put on chains and then drove slowly back to the condo.  There have been internet issues there all fall; so I quelled my panic over a day without any internet access by working on Christmas present project #5, which I had brought with me along with all of my Thanksgiving leftovers anticipating just such a predicament.

Wednesday afternoon I got a call - a delayed start for the next day.  Noting that it wasn't even dark yet, I figured the delayed start was another part of the superintendent's attempt to placate the community.  I didn't mind.  We could still hold auditions as planned, plus I'd get to sleep in an hour.  Works for me!

And then I got another call at 5:30 this morning - "Due to widespread power outages and low temperatures, school is cancelled for today, Thursday, December 5th."


I hung up the phone and blearily made my way into the bathroom, shaking my head at the superintendent's apparent overcompensation. That's when I discovered that I didn't have any water.

Crap encore.

I checked all of the pipes I knew of, and everything looked fine.  The furnace closet on the balcony was cold, but nothing looked out of sorts.  I moved the space heather from the bathroom into the furnace closet and set it to medium, then crawled back into bed to wait for dawn.

Still no water when the morning came.  I checked with the neighbors, and it looked like the entire building was in the same predicament.  With my mom's help (go, go long distance Google searches!) I did what I could to diagnose that it was a problem with pipes outside the building (as opposed to inside the building that could burst and flood the place while I was gone).  Reassured that I had done all I could, I packed up my car and made my way back to the land of internet and running water.  I'll be back up there Sunday afternoon to meet the internet repair guys anyway, so I'll check on the water again then.

As soon as I got back to my condo, I posted an entry on the musical's blog to reassure the students.  "It'll be fine," I wrote.  "We'll just push everything back a day."  Again.

It's really cold, but the roads aren't too bad down here, so I had a chance to do some grocery shopping and laundry and such.  I actually enjoyed being home for a while, since I haven't had the chance to do that for several days.  I baked cookies and got artsy, and then I got a phone call.

"Due to freezing temperatures, the district will be running on a delayed start tomorrow, Friday, December 6th."


Maybe we won't do auditions this week after all.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Flip Side

As a balance to my verbose and largely pessimistic prior post, here is a brief bit of optimism:

1.  Another show is done, and it went well.
2.  That 89-hour work week is over.
3.  I have a whole week before I start my next show.
4.  There are only two days of school this week.
5.  I made Ridiculous Brownies for the cast celebration tomorrow.

What are Ridiculous Brownies, you ask?

Why, it's a brownie cupcake...

...with a peanut-butter-covered Oreo baked inside.

They are ridiculous, and I'm pretty sure my horde of teenagers is going to love them.


6.  I got to be social last night!  With non-teenagers!  By going to the Alamo to watch a teenage movie about teenagers who try to kill other teenagers!  It was delightful.

Another One Bites the Dust

We were just starting our after-school dress rehearsal on Wednesday when one of the students mentioned that T. had gotten suspended that afternoon.

I got the other students going, then ducked out to call our administration.  They verified that yes, T. was suspended for the entire day on Thursday.

T. had a fairly large part in the play that was opening Thursday night.

I wish that this was a rare occurrence, but it's not.  I've had far too many last minute drop-outs over the years, enough that I've come to expect it and in the days prior to shows I'm placing mental bets on which kid is going to flake out this time.

Is it flaking out when the kid is suspended because he threw a milk carton at a passing semi truck during lunch?

T. beat the odds.  There were two others ahead of him on my "close watch" list.  They both showed up, although they did skip the last two rehearsals and arrived 40 minutes after call.  T., however, was definitively out.

Inevitably I get the question from the cast a week before the performance - "What if someone doesn't show up?"  I always answer, "Then we'll deal with it."

And we do.  I hung up with the admin and went back to my cast, calling them together into a circle.  I explained the situation.  I didn't have to do any more than that - two other boys immediately volunteered to take over his part.  They divided up his lines on the spot and vowed to be memorized by the performance.

And they were.  In fact, they did a great job.  That's the flip side to this coin.  A student makes a bad choice and lets everyone down.  The other students rise to the occasion and make it work.

We had three performances - Thursday night, Friday morning for the school, and Friday night.  T. showed up right before the bell Friday morning.  Everyone else was dashing about in costume, getting ready for the curtain going up in 12 minutes.  T. strolls in, no costume in sight.  Those who spot him give me the "Oh, no!  This is awkward!" look.  I just cross to T.  "You're not performing today," I say.  "You can have a seat in the audience."

"Okay," he said.  It didn't seem to be a surprise, nor should it have been.  He left with the audience at the end of the performance, and I didn't see him the rest of the day.

My mistake was checking my email after school.  There was the message from T.'s father: "Why wasn't my son allowed to perform today?" he asks.  "Why should his grade be affected by your excluding him from the performance?" he asks.  "Why is he still being punished?" he asks.

I don't handle criticism well.  Oh, I can process it, respond to it rationally, and act professionally.  I just can't let it go.  An email like this gnaws at me for days.

Should T. have been allowed to perform?  Absolutely not.  He missed the final three rehearsals and the first show.  Based on his performance at the rehearsals earlier in the week, he wasn't memorized nor did he have a costume yet.  I hope he was disappointed to be kept from performing - that would show some awareness of consequences.  He made a choice that negatively impacted twenty four other students and myself, let alone endangered the life of the semi truck driver.  I hope he was at least disappointed that he didn't get to perform.

Should his grade be affected?  That's trickier.  On one hand, he did not complete the cumulative assessment for the term.  However, if a grade is meant to be a measure of his knowledge of theater, then no.  I should find another way to evaluate his current level of knowledge and performance to make up for the examination he missed.

But if that's what grades truly are then the kindergarden-level 20-year-old in my other drama class shouldn't receive the same grade as my other students.  But he will.  I'm legally required to adapt the curriculum to fit the special (and officially diagnosed) needs of students.  And so the student who can barely talk will receive a grade as if he delivered the Shakespeare monologue I know he didn't.  Grades are currency.  Some students get welfare checks while others earn every penny.

Grades are one of the few tools left for schools.  In a society where schools are expected to teach students citizenship, manners, morals, self-esteem, psychological coping mechanisms, nutrition, exercise, finance, how to get a job, how to hold a job, and how to be a decent human being in addition to the core curricula; we need as many tools as we can get.  If this grade is a reflection of his knowledge of theater, then perhaps T. shouldn't fail for missing one day.  If this grade is a reflection of his behavior as a member of our society, then he has absolutely failed.  Let him receive that mark and learn from it.

I wrote T.'s father a polite response.  I didn't mention any of these thoughts, of course.  I didn't discuss T.'s lack of preparation leading up to the show, his complete lack of demonstrated interest in the welfare of the show or his fellow cast members, his nonchalant attitude in the midst of a crisis he caused.  I just said that removing him from the cast at that point would be standard policy in any theater company, then threw in a sports comparison to help get the point across.

School policy and my administration will back me up on giving a grading consequence, but I hope the weekend gives his dad time enough to cool off so I don't have to argue the issue.

Unfortunately, the weekend wasn't enough time for me to cool off.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

An Argument For Making Speech A Summer Sport

My administration and I have a rule that if a speech meet is more than two hours away, we stay overnight in a hotel.  We do this because speech meets start at 7:00 in the morning and usually last for 10-12 hours.  The hotel stay makes that doable.

We were supposed to go to Calhan yesterday, which is two hours away.  Conscientious of budget issues for the school and for team members (students pay for their own rooms unless they are on fee waiver), I made the call to make it a non-overnight trip, and we planned on departing bright and early at 4:45 AM Saturday.

Then the Calhan coach, who is new this year, emailed me on Monday with a slew of questions such as "Debate sounds like fun!  What do I need to do to put on debate?" and "I have 10 people who are pretty sure they can judge.  Is that enough?" (Note: No, it is not.  I had 32, and was still trying to recruit up to the day of.)

These questions made me 1) panic, 2) strongly and nicely encourage the coach to cancel her meet and try again when she has more experience (she was actually relieved to hear me say that, and happily took my advice), and 3) reschedule my team to go to Eagle Valley instead.

Now four days away from the meet, I didn't want to deal with arranging for and booking a hotel room on such short notice.  I told the team we would be meeting at 4:15 AM instead, then, in response to their groans and complaints, told them to suck it up and deal with it.  Maybe that's why some parents complain that I'm not approachable.

In any case, as you saw, I set my alarm for an obscene hour and met my students outside the bus barn not 12 hours after we had wrapped up our practice session the day before.  They were blurry-eyed, dressed in pajama pants and hoodies, and most clutched giant pillows and fuzzy blankets.  When I greeted them with a cheery "Good Morning!" they responded either with silence, with groans, or with a look like this from over the top of the bus seat backs:

I took role and told them we'd make a bathroom stop halfway, but in the meantime they should settle in for the 2.5 hour ride.


As we climbed over the mountains, we soon discovered that it had snowed the night before and the roads were iced over in the pre-dawn chill.  It took four hours of crawling along at mostly 30 mph to get to the meet.  We hit the halfway point a little before 7:00, and the students and I made only a quick dash to the bathrooms in Wal-Mart before we huddled back on the bus to continue our slog upwards.  I began texting the hosting coach updates of our progress, begging her to move my students to the last speaking positions in each event so they could still compete without being disqualified for all of their morning events.  The students changed on the bus, taking turns making modesty shields out of the blankets and wriggling into their skirts and suits as best they could.  My assistant coach, who had driven over the night before due to a previous engagement, texted my the room assignments and when we finally pulled into Gypsum at 8:30 the students ran to their first rounds while I was greeted with a big hug from the hosting coach who thanked me for putting up with the drive in order to come to her meet.  I thanked her for helping my kids still compete, and assured her it wasn't a big deal.

If only I had known.

The meet itself was a little slow, but smooth overall.  We won a lot of awards, as we do, and the kids were pleased overall with how they did.

I, meanwhile, was dreading the drive home.  While working the judges' table all day, I noted the skies turning grey and the occasional bought of light snow.  I started checking my weather app every 20 minutes, watching the progress of this:


When we gathered in the auditorium for awards, I warned my team that we were going to make a break for it as soon as we were done.  And, indeed, when we left the school and piled on the bus at 5:30, the snow was falling.

The sun set.  The snow got thicker.  Vail Pass was clogged with semis and slide-offs, and we crawled through the mountains.

The nice thing about coaching speech is that the kids are the good ones.  I wasn't too worried about their behavior in the dark of the bus, and their only complaint was the occasional request for a dinner stop, which I told them depended on how bad things were on the other side of the pass.  If we ever got through the pass.  The bus was moving slowly enough that I could ride for a while in the back of the bus.  I joined my students; and kept them entertained by making predictions about their futures, discussing the meet, and talking about the musical this year.

After three hours, we hit the halfway point at Frisco.  I gave the kids ten minutes to run into either Taco Bell or A&W to grab some dinner to go and use the facilities; then we pulled back out into the darkness.  The traffic from that point was lighter, as you would expect off of I-70, but the snow was thicker and the plows less frequent.  Satiated with burritos and fries, the students curled up into tight bundles on their seats and slept while I watched the winds toss the snow about and thanked God, not for the first time, that I didn't have to be the one driving.

We pulled into the bus barn parking lot at 11:45 PM, over six hours after leaving the meet.  The last of the parents showed up a little after midnight, and I waved the last kiddos off as I climbed into my car.  The wait in the cold woke me up enough to drive all the way home.  The snow was barely a dusting on the road within 5 miles of the school, and by the time I reached Littleton the roads and fields were dry.  There was no sign at all of the storm.  Melting with exhaustion, I dropped my bags on the floor, greeted my anxious cat, brushed my teeth and tumbled into bed just after 1:00 AM.

Thank goodness I have a month to recover before our next meet.  I need it.

Then She Fell

We arrived at a nondescript building shortly after 7:10.  It took some hunting to figure out which building was the site of the show, but we did find a door with a small "Then She Fell" sign past a wrought iron gate.  We arrived with an older couple and were greeted immediately by a young woman dressed in an old-fashioned nurse's uniform.  She crossed our names off the list she carried on a clipboard and checked our ids before going over some of the parameters of the evening - All drinks except the tea would be alcoholic, all food was vegetarian, the truffle has nuts.  There will be no breaks or intermission.  The restrooms are down these stairs.  The lobby is through the black curtains on the left; you can meet up with your group there after the show.

The older woman interrupted, "So we might be separated?" She asked anxiously, clutching her husband's arm.

"Yes," the greeter confirmed.  "You will be separated."

After a quick restroom stop, we went through the curtains and found a sizable room set up like a doctor's office.  An orderly was pouring drinks, and we were each handed a drink and a knotted loop of thick green string with four keys hanging from it.  "Feel free to explore," the orderly said, "but do not open any closed doors. and please put back anything you pick up."

We joined the other audience members in looking around the room.  There were filing cabinets, glass displays, and several folders set out with worn paperwork inside - photographs of Alice Liddell, including the ones famously taken by Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), and patient records documenting diagnoses such as "bad blood" and "jabberwocky bite."  There were also several boxes with padlocks around the room, which my keys opened up and which also contained photographs and scraps of poems.

Shortly after 7:30 a woman dressed as a doctor in a white lab-coat and glasses entered purposefully.  She stood behind the desk and instructed us to take our seats.  Jason and I joined the other audience members in mismatched chairs that lined the perimeter of the room.  There were 15 audience members total - a restriction that made the tickets to the show both difficult to obtain and incredibly enticing.

The doctor sat and pulled a thick, gray desk microphone, the kind that would be used over a P.A. system to her.  She flipped a switch, and began speaking, her voice carried through loudspeakers in the corners of the ceiling and over the soft, old fashioned music that had been playing since we entered, and which continued throughout the building and the evening.

The doctor first laid out the rules for the evening yet again.  Alcohol, tea, food.  We were free to explore, but do not open closed doors and put back what you pick up.  Do not talk unless spoken to.  Welcome to Kingsland Ward hospital.

She then began a monologue about liminality - thresholds, the middle grounds within rituals - and about falling.  It was a factual lecture, full of definitions and Latin word origins.  As she spoke, the orderlies began approaching people and, silently, leading them away through various doors.  A young woman silently held her hand out over laps, person by person, counting off five people, then beckoned them to follow her.  I was number five, so with a shared glance and smile with Jason, I left him to his own adventures.

The young woman led us down the stairs near the entrance as the doctor's voice and the music continued through the speakers in each room.  She opened a pair of dark wooden doors at the bottom of the stairs and ushered us inside, closing the doors behind her.  We were standing between two sets of doors behind a dark waist-high wooden fence that separated us from a room built for private worship.  There was a prie-dieu, an altar, and two confessionals that flanked a large mirror.  In front of the barrier was a wooden bench, and laying on that bench was Alice.

With long dark hair, a white blouse, a full blue skirt, and a wide white sash, Alice was easily recognizable.  She lay on her stomach in front of us, her bare feet crossed in the air.  She had a glass bottle filled with scraps of paper, and she was meticulously piecing together a note by smoothing out each scrap and fitting them together.

We watched her work for a few minutes before she sat up and acknowledged each of us with a slow, pensive look.  Then, still without saying a word, she quickly stood up and crossed to the doors we had entered from.  She peered through the crack between them, then flung them open to reveal a man dressed in a black suit sitting on the staircase.  With the doorway as the proscenium arch, we watched Alice and Lewis Carroll dance a pas de deux on the staircase that was absolutely lovely.  Their dance wove under and around the handrail, up and down the stairs, and they balanced precariously between the stairs and the hallway that ran alongside the staircase, using the chair rail for footing.  It was a dance about love, about desire and wanting and restraint.  It did not resolve, but Lewis Carroll left Alice on the stairs and closed the doors, cutting off our viewing of their scene.  As he did so, another nurse opened the doors opposite and beckoned for us to follow her into another room.

That was the opening of the show that motivated our trip.  I'm delighted with and fascinated by the immersive theater movement, and when Third Rail Projects extended the run of their acclaimed exploration of Lewis Carrol's creations as well as his real-life relationship with Alice Liddell, Jason and I jumped at the chance to get tickets.

Like "Sleep No More", "Then She Fell" is a show that allows the audience to explore and even participate in the story.  The audience's role in this show was incredibly structured - I could practically see the stage directions dictating what Audience Members #1, #2, #3 did at each point, who they were with, where they should go.  By being restricted to staying within closed doors, my explorations were limited to the immediate room that I was in.  It did not have the freedom of "Sleep No More," but it was incredibly intimate.  When Jason and I compared noted afterwards, we found that we had both experienced about 70% of the same vignettes, although never together and never at the same time.

Here are a couple of my favorite moments:

The White Queen, a kind-looking and very pretty blond young woman, kept me and one other girl about my age behind while our original group of 5 moved on.  She sat us at a table, then unlatched a wooden box mounted on the wall above us.  A cascade of letters fell onto the table, and at her encouragement we began sifting through and reading them.  As we did the perpetual music changed from instrumental to a song sung by a young man.  The White Queen settled on one letter in particular, one from an envelop with the stamp of the Red Queen on it, and she began to read it out loud.  "My beloved," she read.  "I saw you with her again."  She continued reading as she stood and indicated for us to follow her.

She read the letter out loud as she led us up the stairs to the second floor.  The letter, a love letter wrought with jealousy and longing, eventually synchronized with the words of the song playing above us, and by the time she led us into a small bedroom, the final words of the letter perfectly matched the plaintive lyrics.  The song ended, the letter ended, and the White Queen handed it to the other audience member as she shut the door.

The room was a small one - about the size of my single dorm room at the U.  A set of closets and drawers lines one wall, a small desk sat under a window, a narrow metal-framed bed was pushed into the corner along the other wall, with a coat stand at its foot.  The White Queen pushed herself away from the door and indicated the bed.  "Time for a bedtime story!" she declared.

The other audience member and I looked at each other while the White Queen looked at us expectantly.  I sat on the bed, then swung my legs up and laid down on my side, my back to the wall.  The other woman laid down on her back next to me.  The White Queen turned off the lights so the room was only lit by the glow of the streetlights through the heavy curtain and sat on the stool next to us.

"Close your eyes," she said.  Hesitantly, we did.  "Once upon a time," she began, "there was a girl who lived in a house as big as memory."  She told us a story that was simple and sad, about a girl who lived backwards and who fell in love in reverse - at the beginning of the relationship, she knew everything about the boy, but by the end she had forgotten all.  I peeked a few times at the beginning, unable to keep my eyes closed as I lay there on a strange bed in a strange room next to a stranger; but I found myself easily slipping into the comfort of listening to a new story from a soothing voice in a dark, quiet room.

The story ended, and I lay there with my eyes closed listening to my neighbor's breathing and matching my own breaths to hers.  Then the White Queen snapped on the lights, "Time to wake up, Doormouse!" and disappeared through the door, closing it behind her.


Later, the white rabbit left me in a room with a cabinet of curiosities and a writing desk.  I had just discovered a box of quill pens in the back of a drawer when Lew Carroll entered.  He looked at me, I looked back at him.  "Do you take dictation?" he asked, indicating the quill in my hand.

"I can," I said.

He shut the door, crossed to the desk, and pulled out the chair.  Upon his gesture I sat, and he handed me a piece of thick cream-colored stationary and a silver pen from the stand on the desk.  Then he moved away from the desk, standing with his back to me, hands clasped behind him.  "My darling," he began.  As he spoke, I transcribed and he paced between me and the door.  Halfway through he paused and held out his hand for the letter.  I handed it to him and he read it, then nodded curtly at me and said, "Follow me."

He led me around a corner and down a short hallway.  As we walked, the floor turned from worn carpet to wood to planks laid over a pool over water.  I followed Lewis Carroll around corners on this boardwalk into another small room with a large purple easy-chair in one corner on the boardwalk, and another across from it in the water.  He indicated that I should sit in the former, then handed me back the letter.  It was now clipped to a board, reverse-side up to give me a blank page to continue on.  He resumed his dictation and I continued writing.  This time as he spoke, he removed his shoes and socks, then rolled up his pant legs.  As he finished the letter, he took it from me once more, and again read it over as he stepped into the water and crossed to the other chair.  He sat, the water lapping at his ankles, and pulled a small glass bottle from his coat pocket.  He twisted up the love letter, inserted it into the bottle and sealed it with a cork before tossing it away from him into the water between us.  That was when I noticed the other bottles of letters bobbing in the water under the edge of the wooden planks.


Near the end of the show, an orderly led me back to the staircase from the beginning.  This time we walked down the hallway that ran alongside the stairs, and she paused when we reached a door and indicated an opening under the stairs.  "Sit down," she said.  I found that there was indeed a chair there in the darkness, and I sat in the little black-painted cubby space, facing out.  "Wait here until someone comes for you," she instructed, then she opened the door to reveal a full-length mirror hanging on the other side and propped it open at just the right angle for me to see through the mirror into the room beyond.  There at the far end were pale blueish-green tiles; a long, white industrial sink with water running into it from long-necked silver fixtures; and on a stool at the sink sat Alice, topless, with her back to me.

I watched her bath herself with a scrap of a washcloth - there was nowhere else to look.  After a few moments, she turned her head and made eye contact with me through the mirror.  She watched me watching her, then slowly wrapped a towel around herself and walked towards me.  Without crossing the threshold she reached out and pulled the door towards her.  She didn't shut it, but closed it enough that I could only see a sliver of her slip.  I heard rustling as she began to change, then she spoke: "Will you hand me my blouse?"  

She slipped her hand out through the door, waiting for me.  I looked to my right and found a white blouse hanging next to the entrance of my cubby.  I handed it to her.  "Thank you," she said.  

Then, a moment later, "Will you hand me my skirt?"  Again, I found it on the hook and handed it to her.  

Then a third time, "Will you hand me my sash?"  I did so silently.

Then, in the same quiet tone that she had asked for the clothes, she asked, "May I ask you a question?"

"Yes," I said, too quietly.  I cleared my throat and tried again.  "Yes."

"Is it better to do what you're told or to do what you want?"  she asked.

I wasn't sure how to answer, and paused to think about it.  "I think you should do both," I finally responded.

I could sense her nodding on the other side of the wall.  "When was the last time you didn't do what you were told?"  she asked.

I couldn't quickly think of a time, so I responded generically, "A few days ago."

"Did you get in trouble?"

I smiled.  "No."

She opened the door then, and smiled back at me in the mirror.  She propped open the door all of the way, then walked past me and down the hall.  I heard her walk up the stairs, and then I saw her again the mirror, this time sitting on the stairs above me, looking back down at me through the mirror.

"When was the first time you fell in love?" she asked me with a cocked head, looking serious.  It was a personal question, but then, I had just watched her bathe.  Like the White Queen's bedtime story, I found myself in an incredibly intimate situation with a stranger, and yet intimacy seemed easier because of the strangeness.  "How old were you?" she asked, and, "What was his name?" and "What did you love about him?'  Then she asked, "Are you married now?"

"No," I said.

Her face fell.  She looked so sad, a shattered innocence of childhood kind-of sad.  Without saying another word she stood up and disappeared from my sight in the mirror.  I could hear her run up the stairs above me, then silence.  A few moments later, I heard footsteps again and a different orderly stepped into view.  "The doctor will see you now," she said.

I followed her back up the stairs to the waiting room we began in.  A single chair was pulled out from the line along the wall and set in front of the doctor's desk.  The orderly indicated that I should sit, then left me.  Shortly afterwards, the doctor came into the room and sat across from me at the desk.  She pulled open a drawer next to her, and pulled out a chess board and a box of chess pieces.  She set the board on the desk between us, then pulled out a white pawn and a red queen.  "This is the story of how Alice won the game in eleven moves," she began, handing me the white pawn.  The doctor then talked through the story of Through the Lookingglass, moving the pieces around the board to illustrate her narration.  Whenever Alice acted, the doctor would indicate where I should move the pawn.  It was the tale Lewis Carroll had written after his break with the Liddell family, but it was also the story of the White Knight, who protected Alice all the way up until her confrontation with the Red Queen.  "Having reached the edge of the board," the doctor said, "Alice had a choice.  She could move forward and become queen, or she could stay behind with the White Knight."  Alice chooses to become queen.  The Red Queen moves to her side.  The White Knight retreats.  And Alice moves to checkmate.

At the end of the tale, the doctor repacked the chess game, handed me a cup of tea and two folded pieces of paper clipped together, then left me alone in the room again.  I opened the first paper.  It was a copy of the acrostic poem from the end of Through the Lookingglass.  The second paper was the program for the performance.  As I read them over, one by one audience members were led back into the room and into the chairs around me.  When all 14 were back, the doctor and the orderlies all took their places behind the desk, and the doctor announced, "That is the end of our show."

- - - - -

There were so many other wonderful moments - the White Rabbit dance with a butcher knife in a closet filled with white roses streaked with red; the Red Queen trying to seduce both Alice and the White Rabbit and later coming completely unraveled in a dingy asylum room; helping the Mad Hatter hang photos of Alice as he talks about how "not all matters are had, and not all hatters are mad," participating in a mad tea party with both queens, the Rabbit, and the Hatter proclaiming "I want a fresh cup!  Move on down!" and then changing seats.  I was walking through the pages of one of my childhood books, but I was also walking between the pages and behind them, and through places that are purely inspired by them.  It was childish and creepy and lovely and sad and so much fun that when I realized it was coming to an end I could only think about how much I didn't want to leave yet because there was so much else to see.

It was, in other words, the kind of show that makes a 36-hour trip across the country completely worthwhile.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


(Note:  Hey, there!  Sorry for the delays.  I've got a freakishly early speech meet this weekend, a show next week, and progress reports due all on top of my normal explosion of school work for this time of year; so it may take me longer than I would like to wrap up my recounting of the New York weekend.  I will get there, though, and I'm willing to bet that I beat Jason to it. :)  At the moment I have (checks clock) 14 minutes until my "Go to bed!" alarm goes off, so let's see if I can at least get up to the show itself, shall we?)

After eating our way through the Hipster Market, we turned our sights and our path towards the Brooklyn Art Museum.

It was about a 20 minute walk away, and I throughly enjoyed the autumn afternoon as we walked.  The trees were nearing the end of their red-and-gold decor, the weather was brisk but not uncomfortable, and the sky was dappled with clouds like so:

Isn't it strange, I thought, to be in NewYork and see so much sky?

I also wondered how many triumphal arches are in the area.  This one seemed to be dedicated to the Civil War.

Not really in keeping with the Roman tradition, unless the South was way farther north than I thought; but who am I to dismiss a good triumphal arch?

As we crossed to the other side of the arch we found...

...another market! (That's the public library in the background, if you're wondering)  More farmer's than hipster's this time, and we passed several people toting bundles of fresh and oh-so-green-smelling eucalyptus home:

Shortly after I took this photo, Jason suddenly turned to me with wide, happy eyes and darted away.  That can only mean one thing.

He spotted Belgian waffles.

And so we partook.  After all, it had been nearly 20 minutes since our last meal.

I got a mini waffle, which was actually a pretty good size.  I'll have to keep that in mind when I'm making them for my Humanities class next term.  The vendors were incredulous that we didn't want any toppings on our waffles ("But you get one for free!"), but we insisted on remaining waffles purists as well as waffle snobs.

Fortified with those caramelized, crunchy pearls of sugar and dough, we followed the walls of the botanical gardens to find:

The Brooklyn Art Museum.

Which unexpectedly had enormous lines.  The larger one was for the temporary exhibition, so we forwent seeing that in favor of only a 30 minute wait for the general admission.  Should you fear that Brooklyn's hipster image disappears inside the museum, no worries - they put a bird on it:

Neither of us knew much about the BAM's collections, so we snagged a map and scanned it for ideas of where to go.  Jason recalled hearing about the period rooms when he spotted that section, so off to the fourth floor!

We stepped out of the elevator and found ourselves in an exhibit of work from Kenya-native/Brooklyn-based artist Wangechi Mutu.  

(from the BAM website)

I didn't love all of her pieces, but every single one was fascinating.  It was the first time I've seen collages that struck me as artfully complex pieces of work.

Appropriately, we exited that room to find ourselves in an area labeled "The Feminist Center", the core of which is Judy Chicago's permanent installation, "The Dinner Party."

You know it's going to be a good installation piece when it begins with a map showing visitors "how the artist intended patrons to view the project."  Dutifully we walked underneath embroidered banners such as:

(from the BAM website)

I could already tell that I was doing the right thing.  I mean, not only was I, a woman, there to guide my male companion through this passage, but I was actually menstruating at the time.  

I am, like, totes female, guys.

The passage led us to a dimly lit, triangular room.  In the center was a trio of banquet tables set on top of a white tiled triangle with gold lettering:

Each place setting included an embroidered table runner with the name of a female-promoting society or significant woman from history, a matching set of utensils, a chalice, and a hand-painted china plate that thematically depicts the "central core."  You know what that means:

Vaginas!  Vaginas everywhere!

The embroidery was beautiful, though, and I have to admire the creativity of each piece.  I mean, check out Emily Dickinson's vagina place setting:

(from the BAM website)

Yep.  Seems about right.

We emerged from the dining room into a section with displays that briefly (and with not-so-thinly-veiled bias) explain each honored woman.  Like the place settings, the woman are ordered chronologically.  As we studied the boards (and enjoyed sitting down), we found that underneath each featured woman was a list of women who were influenced by her or who accomplished similar work.  Under dear Emily, for example, was a list of female poets such as Christina Rossetti and Edna St. Vincent Millay.  Those names are the words that make up the gold lettering on the tile floor.

It was actually an interesting way to browse history, and we spent quite a lot of time looking through the names and accomplishments.  I have to admit that while we began the exhibit with eye rolling, it wound up being one of the highlights of the day.  Plus, I found something interesting on this striking column:

Look at what I found towards the bottom of the list of women who were burned as witches:

Huh.  That's one ancestral story (not to mention an unexplored use for my furry beast) I haven't heard yet.  (And by "furry beast" I do mean Natasha, in case you are disoriented by all the vulvae).

Fortified this time by a renewed sense of my own natural feminine powers, we tracked down the period rooms we initially sought.

Compared with the previous exhibits, they were familiar and calm.

Or so we thought:

It's startling to step into a glass cubicle expecting to see a serene plantation home dining room and instead find a scene of carnage and crows.  This is one of the few times I have been absolutely certain that the artist's objectives for the viewers were fully met.  Valerie Hegarty's installations into (onto?) four of the period rooms is a temporary exhibit; and again, while I didn't particularly like them, I can't help but admire the strength of the reaction they provoked in me.


We were both drooping by then, so we curtailed our exploration of the BAM and headed back to the hotel to rest and regroup before the show.  As no cabs were in sight, we walked back to the hotel and had just enough time for Jason to take a power nap while I bought show tickets for another joint quick trip (Chicago, here we come!) and began researching our chosen destination for next summer's grand adventure.  Once Jason woke, he arranged for our ride to the show and I whittled down the contents of my purse to the most-essential-items-that-I-can-carry-in-my-pocket.  We then grabbed our room keys, our scarves, and our phones and headed out to Then She Fell.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

An Unexpected Market

As it often does, our conversation over brunch to Woodland turned towards reminiscing over memorable food we've shared on our travels.  This led us to conclude that the best way we could spend our day in Brooklyn is hunting for treats.  

A quick internet search suggested we begin our search with a gourmet doughnut shop called Dough.

We set off in the direction of the shop, enjoying the glorious fall weather and the red and gold foliage.  We had been walking for about 30 minutes when, lo, what is this?

White tent tops?  Stands filled with items from somebody's attic?  Androgynous young urbanites in skinny jeans and handmade knitwear?  It's a Hipster Market!

Most excellent.  We dove in to wander through the stands of repurposed mason jars, rusted tin panels and giant lettering, still-in-the-box baseball action figures from the 1980's, vintage clothing, vinyl records, handstiched jeans (choose your own thread color!), and not one but two stalls selling a variety of skeleton keys.

It's possible that I didn't resist these spools of assorted trim.

Mostly, though, we ate our way through the market enjoying: 

Miniature whoopie pies,

(Mmm... pumpkin spice)

The very shop we had been hunting:

(Mmm... salted caramel chocolate)
(Although Jason's Hibiscus doughnut was the winner here)

and, of course, a New York hot dog.  Or in this case, an Asian-inspired hot dog served bahn-mi style:

(Mmm... pickled carrots).

Also, cider:

(Mmm... cider).

It was a delicious event to stumble upon.