Monthly Archives: October 2012

Just Push Play: Thrilling Mash

There are two songs that I must hear each Halloween for me to really feel like it’s Halloween: “Thriller” and “The Monster Mash.” An important part of that is that I must hear them on the radio. Somehow it comforts me to know that they are still arbitrarily played in the world.

I love the campy nature of the song and the Motown vibe.

This needs to explanation. Because it’s thriller.


For more thrills and chills this Halloween, check out my Queens of Scream shout out over on the Baraza . . . if you dare!



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Unmasking Superheroes

Comic book fans, if you have not already, do yourselves a favor and read Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes. Published in 1965, Feiffer took a look at comics not just as throw away children’s books, but as culturally and critically significant. Particularly interesting, at least to me, is the impact of WWII on comics. Another element discussed in the text turns up in Quintin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol 2. As Bill waits for his truth serum to take effect, he discusses the anomaly of Superman’s secret identity–that Superman must wear a mask of mediocrity to hide his true identity. It is the transverse of most heroes who wear a mask in their super form to hide their real identity. Superman must don the lesser Clark Kent, his human costume, to hide who he really is.

That speech is what actually led me to Feiffer’s book. I make no attempt to mask my love of Tarantino, but that speech in particular has such resonance with me. How often do we pretend to be less than we are, to be unaware of our gifts, or to wear a mask of mediocrity to avoid attention? In short, what lengths do we go to blend in?



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This Is Why You’re Failing

The semester has reached that merry time when students suddenly realize that I have been conducting class for several weeks and collecting grades during that time. From now until the week of final exams I will asked variations of the same question: “Why am I failing?” My darling students, except in rare cases, one or more of the following is the answer to your query.

  1. You don’t come to class. Even the times you are physically there, you are not mentally present.
  2. You don’t do work, in or out of class.
  3. You don’t take notes.
  4. You don’t read.
  5. You don’t follow directions.
  6. You don’t ask questions.
  7. You don’t care.

Students, or at least many of those I’ve encountered, live by what I call the Deus Ex Machina principle. They believe that some magical force will intervene and make them pass the class. These are the most common reasons students believe they will not fail:

  1. The final exam is worth so much that if they make a good grade on it, despite failing every other test all semester, it will bring them up to passing.
  2. There is enough extra credit available to bring their grade (be it a 2 or 40) up to passing.
  3. They can turn in all the work they haven’t done all semester and I, so grateful to have it, will negate my ‘no late work policy’ and only take a minor deduction.
  4. They can rewrite papers and retake tests until they are passing.
  5. I curve grades at the end of the semester so everyone is passing. Or I will drop whatever grade(s) hinder their desired outcome.
  6. I will sympathize that my class is something they don’t need and will never use again, so I’ll pass them because my material is irrelevant anyways.
  7. Some authority figure, like my dean or their coach, will intercede and make me pass them.

I think this Deus Ex Machina attitude is also why students fail. The connection of work and outcome is not made. Instead, somewhere fairies are making golden points that will be added to their grades and bring them up to passing. After all, that’s what’s fair.



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V for Vendetta

The Guy Fawkes mask represents anarchy and subversiveness thanks primarily to Alan Moore and Dave Lloyd’s use of the it for the central character of 1982’s V for Vendetta (and the 2006 film). Face it, few people outside Britain and historians would know who Guy Fawkes was were it not for the comic and film. The mask has since become iconic with its wry smile and sharp lines. Even more successful is that the protagonist V never actually shows his face, making him synonymous with the mask. He is his own identity. (In that light, the film was wise in using Hugo Weaving as “V.”)

From the wonderful article, “Behind the Mask”:

The big breakthrough was all Dave’s, much as it sickens me to admit it. More remarkable still, it was all contained in one single letter that he’d dashed off the top of his head and which, like most of Dave’s handwriting, needed the equivalent of a Rosetta Stone to actually interpret. I transcribe the relevant portions beneath:

“Re. The script; While I was writing this, I had this idea about the hero, which is a bit redundant now we’ve got [can’t read the next bit] but nonetheless… I was thinking, why don’t we portray him as a resurrected Guy Fawkes, complete with one of those papier mache masks in a cape and conical hat? He’d look really bizarre and it would give Guy Fawkes the image he’s deserved all these years. We shouldn’t burn the chap every Nov. 5th but celebrate his attempt to blow up Parliament!” 

The moment I read these words, two things occurred to me. Frstly, Dave was obviously a lot less sane than I’d hitherto believed him to be, and secondly, this was the best idea I’d ever heard in my entire life. All of the various fragments in my head suddenly fell into place, united behind the single image of a Guy Fawkes mask. 

This interview with Moore gives great insight into the work as a whole, in particular the character of V.

Above all, dear readers, Remember remember the 5th of November.



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Masqeurade, Politicians on Parade

It is kind of tedious after a while, to parse politicians doing the same thing over and over again. The facts change from week to week, but the sort of masquerade doesn’t.

–Frank Rich

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Brain Stem

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Thoughts on costumes from some of the lovely ladies over at the Baraza (myself included). Happy Friday!

The Baraza

What’s your favorite costume you’ve ever worn?
My favorite costume was every one I wore in “Chicago!”.  It was so out of my persona to be singing & dancing on stage in, well…not much.  I loved feeling so wild & sexy.  It helped that we were up there with actual professional dancers.  Here’s a pic from “Razzle Dazzle” (I’m 3rd in from the left in the polka dot skirt).  It was an amazing performance.  Hopefully we’ll get the chance to reprise it one day.


Picking 1 favorite is way too hard – there are way too many. This is one of the top 10 though. It is from the musical Gypsy. I played a stripper whose “talent” was playing a trumpet. This picture was taken before they added the crowning touch to the costume – actuals knockers on the breast plates! The costume top weighed about 8…

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Paper Faces on Parade

I will always have a soft spot for The Phantom of the Opera because it was the first professional musical I ever attended. Sure I’d paid some visits to my community theatre, but viewing the touring company of Phantom was an entirely different experience. My souvenir t shirt with glow in the dark mask is still getting use.

One of my favorite scenes of the play is the masquarade. There is something so ridiculous about a musical spectacle celebrating a spectacle within that spectacle. On the back of yesterday’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” a tribute to the musical number which opens Act II seems apprapros since the Phantom attends dressed at the Red Death. Side note: I was such a theatre nerd that I had the making of Phantom book. In that book is talks about Michael Crawford being essentially blind descending the staircase in that scene due to the special contacts, layers of make up, and phantom mask he wore underneath the Red Death Mask.

From the 25th Anniversary production, I present one of my favorite theatrical scenes ever:

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Lunchtime Literature: “The Masque of the Red Death”

Do yourself a favor and indulge in one of Poe’s lesser known stories, “The Masque of the Red Death.” Trust me, I’m an English Teacher.

THE “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal — the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the “Red Death.”

It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.

It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held. There were seven — an imperial suite. In many palaces, however, such suites form a long and straight vista, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded. Here the case was very different; as might have been expected from the duke’s love of the bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect. To the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose color varied in accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opened. That at the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue — and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange — the fifth with white — the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet — a deep blood color. Now in no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire that protected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances. But in the western or black chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.

It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation. But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.

But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colors and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was not.

He had directed, in great part, the moveable embellishments of the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fete; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm — much of what has been since seen in “Hernani.” There were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There was much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these — the dreams — writhed in and about, taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps. And, anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the hall of the velvet. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But the echoes of the chime die away — they have endured but an instant — and a light, half-subdued laughter floats after them as they depart. And now again the music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many-tinted windows through which stream the rays from the tripods. But to the chamber which lies most westwardly of the seven, there are now none of the maskers who venture; for the night is waning away; and there flows a ruddier light through the blood-colored panes; and the blackness of the sable drapery appals; and to him whose foot falls upon the sable carpet, there comes from the near clock of ebony a muffled peal more solemnly emphatic than any which reaches their ears who indulge in the more remote gaieties of the other apartments.

But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on, until at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. And then the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps, that more of thought crept, with more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who revelled. And thus, too, it happened, perhaps, that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumor of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise — then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.

In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation. In truth the masquerade license of the night was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds of even the prince’s indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made. The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed. The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat. And yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by the mad revellers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in blood — and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.

When the eyes of Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral image (which with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its role, stalked to and fro among the waltzers) he was seen to be convulsed, in the first moment with a strong shudder either of terror or distaste; but, in the next, his brow reddened with rage.

“Who dares?” he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him — “who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him — that we may know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the battlements!”

It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the Prince Prospero as he uttered these words. They rang throughout the seven rooms loudly and clearly — for the prince was a bold and robust man, and the music had become hushed at the waving of his hand.

It was in the blue room where stood the prince, with a group of pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there was a slight rushing movement of this group in the direction of the intruder, who at the moment was also near at hand, and now, with deliberate and stately step, made closer approach to the speaker. But from a certain nameless awe with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had inspired the whole party, there were found none who put forth hand to seize him; so that, unimpeded, he passed within a yard of the prince’s person; and, while the vast assembly, as if with one impulse, shrank from the centres of the rooms to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn and measured step which had distinguished him from the first, through the blue chamber to the purple — through the purple to the green — through the green to the orange — through this again to the white — and even thence to the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest him. It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a sharp cry — and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revellers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave-cerements and corpse-like mask which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.

And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

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Full Engagement in the Performance Self

“What’s your name when you’re at home?”

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

The questions scene from R&G is perhaps one of Tom Stoppard’s greatest and most memorable. The question above, which leads to the follow up, “Is it different at home?” got me to thinking about the public self.

Psychology Today‘s article about peak performance identity further fed this idea of who we play in life. The article quotes a radio personality as saying the public persona presents “the dilemma of authentic connection…yet maintaining full engagement in one’s performance self.”

Although I am no longer an actor, I have talked about the varied roles I play (mother, wife, professor, writer) and how I must switch between them. Of particular interest is the role of professor. In each class I must connect with students, remain engaging, and cultivate learning. More succinctly put, I must be on.

This semester I teach four classes back to back and it is physically as well as emotionally draining. Yes, I teach community college Freshman and Sophomore courses, but I go from lecturing on pathos/logos/ethos to Japanese Feudalism in The Tale of Genji to analyzing e.e. cummings’ “anyone lived in a pretty how town” to discussing color symbolism in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Not only do I have to cover these topics primarily from memory, I have to ask and answer questions, keep an eye out for covert texting, and try to make what I’m saying interesting to someone other than me.

The classroom me has a different voice, different gestures, and even different facial expressions than the other versions of me. My face, which usually betrays whatever I’m thinking or feeling, has to be kept in check so when a student asks me the same question for the tenth time, my annoyance doesn’t show. Because several of my classes are recorded, my gestures have to be minimal to avoid distraction on the television screen.

It is a performance. On good days, I love doing it. But there are bad days when I slip and the performance is weak. While my students probably don’t care, I do. That may have been my one chance to sell a student on the beauty of Shakespeare and I dropped the ball because I didn’t come ready to play.
Hopefully those days are few and far between.



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