Spring 2018 @csuntheatre

New course news for #CSUN students: Queer Theatre is being offered for the first time this spring– available for elective credit in the Queer Studies Minor & Theatre major. See below for more info about that class and Contemporary Theatre (open to undergrads & grads). My graduate seminar (TH 621) is open to MA students in Theatre and departments accepting elective units– email me for details.

Flier_QS_401T_Queer_TheaFlier_TH_426_Cont_Thea

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pwr6 winter 2015

In addition to ITALIC95W, I’m again offering the 1-credit Writers’ Workshop to Burbank students this winter. The winter PWR6 will depart from its Autumn version: we will build on the work of the fall quarter of ITALIC to collectively write a shared piece to be self-published at the end of the quarter. Join us! And feel free to email me with questions.PWR6Winter2015

Kairos Award for cac.ophony.org

via flickr user kslavin
via flickr user kslavin

This past June, the fine blog, cac.ophony.org, received the John Lovas Memorial Academic Weblog Award from Kairos, A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy.

Cac.ophony.org has featured writing by the Schwartz Institute‘s Fellows and staff since 2005. I have long valued cac.ophony as a place to share ideas about teaching and writing, and am so glad that the muscle behind the blog received this recognition from Kairos.

New Cac Post: Communicating Awareness

My recent post on cac.ophony.org. Read it in shiny original here.

Krista Tippett, the sharp and empathetic host of NPR’s On Being, recently interviewed the singer and composer Meredith Monk. While Monk isn’t one of the artists included in my dissertation, she’s of the place and of the period– 1970s, downtown New York– and it feels appropriate to have her compositions as my soundscape as I churn out the pages. If you’re not familiar with her work, she’s a dynamic artist who has worked in a range of forms over the past decades, best known for recording haunting melodies encased in vocal experimentation. Here is a video of her performing “Gotham Lullaby”:

Back to the interview: there’s much to love about this wonderful exchange (listen here), which delves deeply into Monk’s philosophies and development as an interdisciplinary artist. Early on the conversation, Tippet asks Monk about her notion of the audience as a kind of congregation:

Ms. Tippett: You’ve even talked about the audience as a congregation, which is interesting.

Ms. Monk: Yeah. I mean, I feel like a dinosaur holding out: “A live performance, live performance. Not the screen, live performance,” because I think that there is something about it that’s so unique and it’s so necessary to remember again.

Ms. Tippett: I always see you also insisting that music is about waking up. I mean, I don’t know if those two things have to be in tension, but I sense that, if you had to choose between transcendence and waking up and being right there in that moment, you would choose the latter. Just saying, I mean, live performance is as direct and awake and experience one hopes as anything we do.

Ms. Monk: That’s also, again, so interesting because actually I don’t see those two things as opposites. I actually think that, when you are that present and you are that awake and the audience actually experiences themselves, you know, the deepest part of themselves, then the whole situation becomes transcendent because we’re not — the way we live our lives is not necessarily with that level of presence.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Ms. Monk: And also certainly in this society, we’re taught to actually be distracted and diverted all the time from feeling, in a sense, you could say the pain — the good pain, you know, the pain as in openheartedness and rawness of the moment, the pain as well as the pleasure, everything in one in that moment.

The idea that we’d prefer waking up in the moment to transcendence is an appealing one; most of us who have had experiences in the classroom probably recognize the hope of the live performer: we are not necessarily seeking to deliver our students to transcendence, but just a few moments of awake. More relevant to those of us who think about communicating (and teaching) with our “audience” on a daily basis, is Monk’s articulation of a phenomenon of teaching people to be distracted and diverted from the moment. Just a few days ago, I was in a yoga class where the voice of the teacher was nearly drowned out by the songs of Kanye West blaring from the apartment upstairs; we could hear Kanye’s every syllable as the music pulsed throughout the building, making our Krishna Das seem like a mild sigh in comparison. As the teacher remarked, the “distraction” was like a taunting provocation: you actually think all you need to do to focus is to show up? The external elements stand in the wings, waiting.

A yoga class is one thing, and a college campus is another. On a morning in the first week of Spring semester, 25th Street had been blocked off, and DJ tables and speakers were set up. There were balloons, free hot chocolate, and Rhianna songs playing so loudly that the police horses at the end of the block were vibrating. As the deep bass ricocheted throughout the street, I commented to an acquaintance– a security guard at the college– that it seemed like a strange reason to block the street to traffic. Winter break had just ended, and students were milling around near a food truck. Someone had set up a basketball net, even though it was about 40 degrees outside. The thud-thud of the bass continued. The security guard answered me with weary tone: “I guess they had extra money.” I guess so, I concurred. “It seems strange,” he continued, “that they would do this right after break. Shouldn’t the students be focusing?”

It was a good question. When do we teach students to be distracted? And when do we create even further obstacles to communication? Baruch students are a scattered breed; the ones I come into contact with are rushing from jobs as far away as LaGuardia airport, some are juggling childcare needs, others just haven’t yet figured out how to organize their time post-high school. One of my students works all weekend at a hair salon in Astoria (eleven-hour shifts) and has the work of six classes to contend with Tuesday through Friday. I wondered about her– when arriving on campus, what might help this student excel and make meaningful connections with those around her?

Some days, in the lobby of the Vertical Campus, club hours at Baruch literally become “club” hours. There is a cacophony of distractions– a DJ surrounded by cake-selling student groups, with the dance music turned up to blast-off. Some students might enjoy the rush of it all, but it seems to actively repel faculty and administrators, who race towards the elevators like it’s an old-school game of tag and they see base. A shy student who might want to actually talk to a peer is left to do the awkward bend-close-to-the-ear move that’s normally perfected in frat basements and rock concerts. Just last week, as I hopped off the escalators, a row of male students awaited me, stacks of flyers in their hands. I took one. A blond in a Hooters tank top holding a pitcher of beer smiled back at me from the flyer. “Come join the brothers of Alpha Phi Delta for HOOTERS: Eat, Drink, and Meet the Brothers.” The thud-thud of the bass continued; I could hear the music even from my destination on the seventh floor.

I mention these two incidences not to be a curmudgeonly grouch, but to question some of the elements shoved into the frame of our every day communication. Do we create the environment for a whole range of interactions, or do we just create innumerable moments of distraction? Many of us profess to be on the hunt for increased calm and time for breathing; how do we model this for our students? As is frequently remarked upon, communication boundaries are changing. Our students don’t see an email to a professor as being qualitatively different from a text message to a friend. Students check facebook in class, and they remain so plugged in to other things at all times that it’s hard to get a refuge. Does the university have a responsibility to teach them how to find one? The VC provides them with one big building where everything happens; they need to learn to shift the rules of propriety everywhere they go, between a mid-day club to mid-day clubbing to economics class to the weight room. While this hopefully builds great fluency and flexibility, it also might be downright dizzying.

There’s no one-size-fits-all picture of academic focus and rigor. And I’m not suggesting that “play” should be absent from the daily equation of student life– certainly college experience operates on multiple planes. But we also need to recognize the carelessness with which we load distractions into the sightlines of our students. And “playfulness” comes in many guises, including being focused moment to moment. As Monk explained:

Ms. Monk: …I think that sense of playfulness is the sense of being alive; that’s another aspect of being awake and the fluidity. It’s really about fluidity, about being so in the moment that you are in pinpoint focus, but at the same time, you’re completely open to what the moment has to give you or to tell you. And I think that has to do with the playfulness and people can feel that. You know, I think that that’s what you’re giving an audience is that spirit of the give and take that playfulness implies.

I can’t end on a prescription or a conclusion here– 20 minutes of enforced meditation a day in the VC?– since these questions are all open for debate, from the concern about our own inattentiveness to the distractions that we facilitate (and even in the relativity of how we each perceive different kinds of music). Maybe one path to continue thinking about this is a merging and a meshing.  If you’re interested in further collisions between Meredith Monk and club music, check out this track from “Monk Mix,” remixed and interpretations of Meredith Monk’s music by folks like DJ Spooky, Arto Lindsay, and Ghostlover:

Postscript: I was excited to see that a former colleague of mine in the public school system, writer Diana Senechal, has a new book, The Republic of Noise, that tackles this very topic. My next post will take a look at some of the ideas in her book. Find out more here.

A Plastic Bag of the Occult

Remembering Daniel Gerould (1928-2012)

[Many wonderful reflections on Dan Gerould’s life have turned up in recent days; for a thorough accounting of his professional achievements, see the writings by Robert Simonson for Playbill.com, Yale University’s Krystyna Lipińska Iłłakowicz, and Superfluities Redux.]

[Update, March 1, 2012: I worked with some colleagues from the CUNY Graduate Center on a wikipedia page for Daniel Gerould, which you can now read and augment here. Special thanks to Frank Episale for jump-starting the idea.]

“The art of transformation is the talisman or open-sesame of my entire output. Theatre for me is the art of metamorphosis. Changing one’s skin and shedding one’s old self is fundamental to the dramatic impulse.”
–Daniel Gerould, Introduction to Quick Change, 2011

When I began the Graduate Center’s Theatre program (where Dan was a professor for forty years), I kept my part-time job as a script analyst for Vox3 Films, an endeavor to which I was dedicating hours every weekend; I remember sitting up until two in the morning one night, reading a bizarre film script about a corset-maker who gets stranded on a beach– at a loss for how to create a summary coverage for it. I was also teaching two sections of Introduction to Public Speaking, and on many other evenings I would sit up drilling the finer points of introductory communications theory into my head, taunted by the readings for three graduate courses that were still left to be read. Some of these were new challenges that I didn’t fully apprehend;  I ended up truly loving the adrenaline rush of teaching public speaking (an odd sentence, I know), but some days– especially those long afternoon “Symbolist Theatre” seminars, my mind was elsewhere.

At those moments, I would look to the front of the table and see Daniel Gerould sitting there; a man of unknown age but dapper looks and a sly, crafty humor, his pert bowtie always done up just so, his heavy tweed jackets sitting atop a thin frame. Amid the chaotic pace of running between teaching, reading Maeterlinck, and writing abstracts of short stories for my director-boss, I was often a fresh mess by the time I arrived at his seminar. And yet the calm that emanated from the head of the table was almost uncanny; Dan was so much at home in the seminar space, in the teaching realm– it was truly his habitat, and we were but invited guests, always treated with hospitality, dates, and tea. Most students who encountered one of Dan’s classes in the last two decades or so would have become acquainted with the large, yellowed note cards he occasionally referenced during class, or his excitement as he clutched a rare LP of an Alexander Scriabin opera. He had an easy lecture style, weaving gingerly between the points that he really wanted to get across about Lesya Ukrainka’s wood fairies, or Ibsen’s masterful building. (And who could forget the way he pronounced “Villiers de l’Isle-Adam”?)

Dan used to bound back and forth between his office in the Segal Center and his office in the Theatre Program next door; buoyant on the balls of his feet, he would fetch a few essential texts and cart them back to his Segal Center lair, where I spent much time shifting uncomfortably on the couch. As a colleague of mine smartly described it, in conversation with Dan, “you were never sure if a pause was his way of asking a question for you to complete, or just a moment where he filed through the entire history of the French Revolution to find the perfect way of phrasing a point.” This was true especially when you were launching a project or paper idea about which you weren’t quite confident; Dan was particularly encouraging of my interest in researching the unpublished plays of Lewis Mumford. This itch had grown out of a long, meandering inquiry into the collisions between urban development and theatre, one that took me through readings on ecology, gentrification, the city, the town, the country, the universe. I was all over the place– but Dan always listened and encouraged, and occasionally interjected with a little verbal smelling salt to bring me back to center.

When I applied for a grant to read these plays by Mumford, Dan nudged me in his very respectful manner, sprinkling our conversations with reminders that I not pre-judge what I would find in the archives, but see what the plays told me. This, I realize, was part of Dan’s strength as an educator; his ability to not judge the student, an essential cushion for many of us newbies groping through the first semesters in the doctoral program. It was for Dan that I had to write my first paper; I was tinged with anxiety, but his squiggly comments on the finished essay were probing and helpful, and I had the sense that he knew that he was letting me know that it was all fine; I could be in the club and sit at the table.

After I visited the Lewis Mumford archives, Dan would calmly dispense small tidbits about how to approach scholarship, and, more importantly, how to assert one’s own voice in the process. When I would express a sense of awe at the sheer volumes of published work by Mumford and about Mumford, Dan would wave it all away with his graceful, thin hands. He possessed a powerful ability to explain– concisely– why certain work was of value. Indeed, when I eventually presented a paper on this topic at a conference, I felt the guiding push of Dan’s mentorship, and recognized its steam. I recently came upon an old email he sent me about one draft of my book proposal on Mumford’s playwriting: “My primary suggestion for revision,” he explained, “would be to give yourself a somewhat larger authorial presence and louder and more committed voice.” This likely sums up the subtle way in which Dan shaped the authorial voice of so many people, inching and encouraging.

Even after I jumped a few steps afield from that project to pursue something different for my dissertation, Dan was still forwarding me copious emails that he thought related to my interests. Mid-January, an email flashed on my screen, an announcement for an exhibition in Slovenia looking at the historic residues informing current histories of ‘the urban.’ Dan, at 84 years-old, was constantly attending, archiving, curating, and informing, all with a gracious curiosity. Now, reading the introduction to his most recent book, Quick Changes, I understand more the foundations for Dan’s abiding and unflagging passion for the work that he championed:

“For the most part I have chosen to write about the underrated, the ignored, and the forgotten rather than the overexposed and universally celebrated. I have never been much concerned with whether an artist was a major or a minor figure, a canonical or non-canonical artist, since these valuations are constantly shifting and highly unreliable.”

Recent conversations have confirmed my prior assumption that this was not especially unique to my experience, but rather it was the very nut of being Dan’s student. And so we know how it felt to be gripped by an urge to thank him, for the simple, easy-going kindnesses he would dispense. I once brought Dan a bottle of wine after the close of one of the two independent studies I completed under his guidance; a small group of us had spent the semester reading up on eco-theatre, through which Dan was an ever-understanding and low-stress companion. He had encouraged us to organize a mini-conference on Eco-Theatre at the Segal Center as part of their Earth Day programming, and it was an endlessly worthwhile experience for us all.  I presented the gift somewhat sheepishly– was he even a wine drinker? He accepted it with his usual bright-eyed look, stashing it behind a stack of files, moving busily around his office, sorting papers and magazines so that there might be room for me to sit. One of the other students presented him with a Russian dessert, which charmed Dan to no end– he stopped for a moment, stooping over the Tuperware, drawing out each syllable in a deep octaved exclamation, before he placed it on his desk and resumed: “Alright…..” We thanked him for his generosity and flexibility all semester, but he just pushed on as if it was a moot point, ready for our reports from another two weeks of research.

Pulitzer Prize Winner Jennifer Egan Headlines Writers Lab

The launch of the Summer Writers Lab at LIU’s Brooklyn campus is next week. Spread the word to all interested bookworms: there is a lovely line-up of public events, representing a real diversity of literary styles. Music and some champagne, too. Admission = a mere $5!

The press release with all of the info can be found here ……

Summer Writers Lab Public Events:

Thursday, June 16 at 7:30 p.m.
Opening Night Reading: Gabriel Cohen, Jennifer Egan, Marlon James, Jessica Hagedorn.

Health Sciences Building-Room 107, Brooklyn Campus of Long Island University
Tickets: Free for Summer Writers Lab participants; $5 for the general public

Along with numerous critical accolades, Time magazine named Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, “a new classic of American fiction,” and gave it a spot on their list of the top ten books of 2010. Marlon James’s first novel, John Crow’s Devil, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Gabriel Cohen’s debut novel Red Hook was nominated for the Edgar award. Publisher’s Weekly called Summer Writers Lab director Jessica Hagedorn’s new novel, Toxicology, a “razor-sharp, refreshingly unsentimental portrayal of New York artists.” Don’t miss all four of them reading in one night, followed by book signings and a reception.

Friday, June 17 at 7:30 p.m.
Reading and Performance: Rick Moody and Wesley Stace (aka John Wesley Harding)

The Spike Lee Screening Room, Brooklyn Campus of Long Island University
Tickets: Free for SWL participants; $5 for the general public

Local favorite Rick Moody (The Four Fingers of Death, The Ice Storm) and erudite novelist Wesley Stace (Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer) will give a hybrid performance and reading. Moody, who is at work on a forthcoming book of essays about music, and Stace, who has released 15 albums under the name John Wesley Harding, will join forces for a unique and intimate evening that will showcase their musical and literary talents. Hosted by Andy Hunter, Publisher and editor-in-chief of the Brooklyn-based journal, Electric Literature. A Q&A and a book signing follows their performance.

Saturday, June 18 at 1 p.m.
Panel Discussion: The Literary Marketplace in the 21st Century

Health Sciences Building – Room 107, Brooklyn Campus of Long Island University
Tickets: Free for SWL participants; $5 for the general public

A lunchtime panel with Rakesh Satyal, editor at HarperCollins and author of the acclaimed novel, Blue Boy; Johnny Temple, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Akashic Books and Chair of the Brooklyn Book Festival; and veteran literary agent, Faith Childs, who represents some of today’s leading writers of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Harold Augenbraum, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation and presenter of the National Book Awards, will moderate the panel.

Saturday, June 18 at 7:30 p.m.
Closing Night Celebration at Greenlight Bookstore, co-hosted by Electric Literature

Greenlight Bookstore, 686 Fulton Street, Brooklyn

Readings by guest writers and participants, and a special screening of single sentence animations from the innovative Brooklyn literary magazine, Electric Literature.

GUEST WRITERS

Gabriel CohenGabriel Cohen is the author of an acclaimed series of crime novels which are set in Brooklyn and feature detective Jack Leightner. His debut novel Red Hook was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. He also is the author of The Ninth Step, The Graving Dock, Boombox, Neptune Avenue and the nonfiction book Storms Can’t Hurt the Sky. He has written for The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Time Out New York, and other publications. He teaches in Pratt Institute’s writing program and lectures extensively. His Web site is www.gabrielcohenbooks.com.

Jennifer EganJennifer Egan is the author of A Visit From the Goon Squad, published in 2010. Her other work includes The Invisible Circus, which was released as a feature film by Fine Line in 2001; Emerald City and Other Stories; Look at Me, which was nominated for the National Book Award in 2001; and the bestselling The Keep. Also a journalist, she writes frequently for The New York Times Magazine.

Marlon JamesMarlon James was born in Kingston, Jamaica. His most recent novel, The Book Of Night Women, was internationally acclaimed and voted Best Book Of 2009 by the Library Journal. His first novel, John Crow’s Devil, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Commonwealth Prize, and was a New York Times Editor’s Choice. Currently a professor of literature and creative writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, he is at work on a new novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings. He divides his time between Jamaica, New York City and the Twin Cities.

Rick MoodyRick Moody has published novels, short fiction and nonfiction, including The Four Fingers of Death; Garden State; The Ice Storm, which was adapted into a feature film directed by Ang Lee; The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven; The Black Veil: A Memoir with Digressions; The Diviners; and Right Livelihoods: Three Novellas. His work in music has been extensive. It includes the album Rick Moody and One Ring Zero and two albums with The Wingdale Community Singers, the most recent of which is Spirit Duplicator (2009). A new book, Discreet Music: Essays on Listening, is forthcoming.

Wesley StaceWesley Stace is the author of the international bestseller Misfortune, as well as the novel By George. His most recent novel, Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer will be published in the U.S. by Picador in February 2011. He has released 15 albums under the name John Wesley Harding. Learn more at WesleyStace.com.

Jessica HagedornJessica Hagedorn is director of The Summer Writers Lab and is the Parsons Family University Professor of Creative Writing in the M.F.A. Program at Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus. Her novels include Toxicology, Dream Jungle, The Gangster Of Love and Dogeaters, which was nominated for a National Book Award. She is the editor of Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction. Her extensive work in theatre includes the stage adaptation of Dogeaters. Learn more at www.jessicahagedorn.net.