Looking Glass Rock Writers Conference

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School’s out for summer, so I’m here, sitting on the front porch of the admin building that you see in the picture above on the campus of beautiful Brevard College in Brevard, North Carolina, to attend the Looking Glass Rock Writers Conference. I will be attending fiction workshops lead by  Jane Smiley, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Thousand Acres.

Attending at least one writers conference each summer has become one of my goals, and LGRC falls at the perfect time, right at the beginning of my summer. My hope is that this conference will jump start my ambitious writing plans for my time off teaching. My wish is to finish the novel that I will be working on here at the conference AND complete my new play, an adaptation of Robert Browning’s “Ring and the Book.”

As if that isn’t enough, I will also be launching my literary publication, Teach. Write. In September. I am still accepting work for the venture, so if you are, or ever been a teacher of English composition, then you are eligible to submit to Teach. Write. 

Go to this link for more information: Teach. Write Submission Guidelines. Deadline for submissions is July 1. I would love to see your work.

 

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The Art of Collaboration

Cast Meets with Susan Burk

Cast meets via Skype with Susan Burk from the Matthew Shepard Foundation during rehearsals for The Laramie Project – photo by Vince LaMonica

Not soon after I started working at the community college where I teach, I was thrilled that a new degree was added–an Associates of Fine Arts in Drama. The young woman who led the program brought back to life my love of all aspects of theater production. I had dabbled in community theater as a publicist, properties manager, stage director and actor in several places where I lived, but raising a small child and teaching a heavy adjunct load meant little time for this passion.

 

The drama department at the college brought it all back to me. Furthermore, it offered me opportunities to get back onto the stage through small roles that didn’t require a great deal of rehearsal time. Jennifer, the director, always made it doable, and the more I became involved the more I wanted to do. Because her department is small, and she is the only full-time instructor, Jennifer and I, an English teacher, started finding more and more opportunities to work together, forming a cross-curriculum relationship that has, I think, greatly enhanced both departments for the advancement of our students and has sustained us both by allowing us the creative outlets that we crave.

It all started one day, long ago, over lunch at a Chinese buffet restaurant, when we were discussing the upcoming production. Jennifer had decided she wanted to do two one-act plays with her directing one and me the other as I had expressed the desire of getting my feet wet as a director. She had already decided on one of the plays–Blue Window by Craig Lucas, but she hadn’t been able to find a suitable play for me to direct.

Almost as a joke, I said, “Hey, guess what?”

“What?” she said.

“I wrote a play long years ago. It’s called Green Room. How about that, Blue Window, Green Room.” I was almost laughing. I really wasn’t serious at all or suggesting anything, I swear.

Then, she said, “Let’s do that one.”

“What?” I said.

“Let’s do your play.”

“But you haven’t even read it. You don’t know anything about it. It might suck. I mean, as far as I remember it does suck.”

“Here’s the beauty of it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. Whatever we don’t like, we change.”

Thus began a truly productive collaboration between two instructors. I can’t tell you what it means as a writer and an educator to have this kind of partnership, which protects Jennifer and her department from isolation and offers me opportunities to stretch the creative side in me–the writer, the actor.

We did produce Blue Window and Green Room. I ended up handing the directing baton over to Jennifer when, two weeks before opening night, one of the leads quit, and I had to step in to act. In addition, Curtis, a student who played a lead role in the play, also composed original music for Green Room and has gone on to collaborate with me, and Jennifer,  on many projects even after he left school.

The next semester I directed my first full length play, Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children. Was I crazy? Of course, I was, but of course, Jennifer was there to help me through the process, and without her expertise the show would have been a disaster. On the other hand, because of my knowledge of German (I double majored in English and German in undergraduate school), I was able to contribute direct translations from the original text when the British translations we were using didn’t work. Also, I have a particular interest in musicals, which Jennifer doesn’t share, so working again with Curtis, we composed original music for the play.

Over and over again, Jennifer and I, along with students like Curtis, as well as colleagues, have collaborated on productions. So many times our ideas came from just seeing plays together in the community or at conferences. Other times they simply sprang from casual conversation or out of a desire to find a special project for a special actor. Here are just a few examples of our working together (in no particular order):

  • A production of Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Project’s Laramie Project with student-led talk back facilitated by the public speaking instructor at the college. In addition, Jennifer had frequent discussions with Susan Burk from the Matthew Shepard Foundation and cast members had a teleconference with Burk to prepare for their roles. I acted in the show and wrote two features about the production for the local newspaper. Follow these links to read the features: 1)  Pre-Production 2)  Production
  • BRCC’s participation in the 48 Hour Film Project, winning Asheville’s contest in 2008. See the film at this link: Serial Love
  • Tennessee Williams’ One-Act Play Festival–we had two separate stages, a southern-style picnic and a lecture on Williams by one of our English faculty
  • Pre-show lecture about Lord Byron and the Shelleys before the production of Howard Brenton’s Bloody Poetry
  • Pre-show lecture, scenes and short film (produced by drama department) before production of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.
  • Pre-show lecture by me and an adjunct English instructor before Shakespeare’s Macbeth (we both acted in the production as well)
  • World premiere of A Carolina Story, a musical based on the Book
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    A Carolina Story, April 2012

    of Job, by me with music by Curtis (We produced it a second time as a fund-raiser for the student emergency grant and loan fund)

There have been so many other examples of how our collaboration has enhanced our teaching. Currently, we are collaborating on perhaps our most ambitious project yet, an original stage adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We are attempting to preserve the plot and style of the original while adding exciting multi-media effects to enhance the production.

Most theaters cannot sustain this kind of freedom and collaboration between writer and producer/director. It is educational theater, especially in higher education, that allows for this kind of risk-taking to take place. It is also this kind of educational theater that should be supported with proper funding and promotion because in the end, collaboration between faculty, staff, students, administration and community is what it takes for the arts in education to flourish, teaching us to work together for the betterment of all.

And hey, if you’re near Asheville the weekend before Halloween, come see Frankenstein!!

 

 

 

Again, No Time But Must Post Something

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Mock Propaganda Poster Inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (Pinterest)

I’m in the midst of grading my brains out here at the end of the semester, but I don’t want to let any more time go by without posting something because the current state of liberal arts education, especially at the community college level in my state, demands it. Thank goodness there are others who feel the way I do. So until I’m able to do some more research, I’m posting this great article by Gary Saul Morson, professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at Northwestern University.

As a literature instructor I was a bit taken aback at first, and a little insulted, but then I read on, and he has some great things about the importance of college level literature studies as well as sensible ways to engage students in literature classes.

Article by Gary Saul Morson from Commentary Magazine

England Trip–Day Two

Because of the change in time, I arrived in London about 11:00 this morning. I met up with my old high school friend and we took the Underground to Russell Square. Our hotel, the Hotel Russell is an old Victorian hotel. It’s gorgeous! My room is small and my view is of back alleys and people’s back yards, but I find it charming.

The lobby of the Hotel Russell, Charing Cross, London

The lobby of the Hotel Russell, Charing Cross, London

For students working on travel projects going to London, I suggest looking into purchasing an Oyster card. A seven day card gets me unlimited travel on two central zones on the subway, called the Tube by Londoners.

It took a while to get from Heathrow to Russell Square, so we didn’t have but a little while before going to the theatre (British spelling). We were pretty tired, so we decided to take a taxi, which I wouldn’t advise if you are making plans to travel in London. Because the traffic was so snarled and the cabs charge by the minute, it turned into a pretty penny, but we got to the Garrick Theatre with plenty of time to spare.

Found this on trip advisor, but we were sitting near the end of this row!

Found this on trip advisor, but we were sitting near the end of this row!

The Garrick is an old theatre for which The famous Irish actor Kenneth Branagh is now artistic director. The show was two one acts by the important British playwright Terence Rattigan. The first short play starred the great British actress, Zoe Wanamaker in a one woman show called All on Her Own, about a woman who has recently lost her husband. It was some great acting, but the pace was kind of slow for someone with jet lag.

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The longer one act was an unexpected pleasure. Also by Rattigan, it was totally different in character. It is a funny farce about theatre. Very funny, and I was thrilled that the play is directed by and starring  Branagh. Wanamaker was in that show too. Very funny, brilliantly acted, yet also rather poignant and touching at the end. I absolutely loved it!

The playwright--Terence Rattigan

The playwright–Terence Rattigan

Took the crowded Tube back to Russell Square and struck up an interesting conversation with some locals who were disgusted by the long queue, which is the British word for line. Other fun differences in language are all around. My favorite is coming out of the Tube, instead of exit signs, we see signs that say, “way out.”

Way out sign at Russell Square

Way out sign at Russell Square

Another thing for London travelers to remember is buy snacks and drinks from one of the little groceries that are all over because it is much cheaper than at the hotel bar and many London hotels don’t have vending machines.

Well, it is late and I didn’t sleep much on the plane, so I am going to hit the hay. I will write more tomorrow.

Some Weeks Are Good

I know I whine, but not always. Sometimes things work out. Some weeks are good. Last week was one of those. Classes went well. Real collegiality and collaboration took place. Respect was the watch word. Yes, it was a good week. In celebration, I’m printing the lyrics (rough draft) to one of my favorite songs in my new musical CAMPUS. This song is sung by the three “fairy godteachers.” Enjoy!

The Liberal Arts

Mrs. H (singing)
When I lived in Chicago.

Mrs. Mc and Mr. T.
You lived in Chicago?

Mrs. H
Back when I was a girl.
One thing I used to do

Mrs. Mc and Mr. T
What was it?

Mrs. H
I used to read.

Mr. T
Who would have guessed?

Mrs. H
I mean only read.
You’d think the teachers would agree
That reading was a great activity
But they would roll their eyes and give that look
When they called on me and my nose was in a book.
I read
The Three Musketeers in history.
I think Jane Eyre in PE
In Science it was Pride and Prejudice
Lord of the Rings I read in Math
I even got in trouble for reading
In English class.

Ms. M
Why was that?

Mrs. H.
I’m not sure of the cause
But I think it was
Because I was reading Judy Blume
Instead of Sylvia Plath

Mr. T
But what does this have to do
With signing up kids for class?
How do we make them move
Get up off their tiny…

Mrs. H
I’ll tell you.
And then there came a day
That wonderful, glorious day.

Mr. T
Here we go.

Mrs. H
When I knew
Without doubt
What learning was all about…
It was fifth grade and I was all alone
I had no friends to call my own.
Just only had my books
To keep me company
To keep away the looks
They gave to me.

Then we went to the art museum
The Chicago art museum
And walking down the staircase
I looked up and saw it fill the wall
A painting all in black

Ms. M and Mr. T
All in Black?

Mrs. H
Mainly black.
With a thin line of white running down the middle
And an orange line running down the side.
That was all

Then I walked down that massive stairway
Step by step
Moving closer
Moving nearer
To the truth.

Mr. T.
What truth?

Mrs. H.
There was something
In all the blackness
You couldn’t see it from afar
There was meaning
In the darkness
Shapes and form
And art

Ms. Mc
I love this little story
But I’m not sure what it means

Mr. T
That makes two of us
I just don’t see
What you’re trying to say.

Mrs. H
I’m trying to say
That after that day
I knew what school was all about
Giving me knowledge for my work
But teaching me so much more
Teaching me how to live and
What to live for.
Because you only know what truth is
When you get close enough to see
I learned that’s what the liberal arts
Could give to me.

The Liberal Arts
The Liberal Arts
Because you only know what truth is
When you get close enough to see.

Ms. Mc
Now I know what you mean
I’ve felt it too
I only cared about computing
When I was in school
And Chemistry was okay too
The calculations were somewhat challenging.

Then I went to a symphony with my class
Drug to hear a full orchestra on the lawn
Of an old mansion in downtown Tulsa.

Mr. T
Tulsa?

Ms. Mc
Downtown Tulsa on the lawn
With my 10th grade class
When I was just fifteen
I sat through some baroque
Didn’t really have a choice
And some other too straight forward
I can’t remember what it was
Then came The Moldau

Mr. T.
The what?

Mrs. H.
Bedrich Smetana’s The Moldau

Mr. T
Right.

Ms. Mc
I’d never heard anything like it before
It was a river
A river flowing through the music
Through my mind
Starting as a stream
Running through the strings
And I heard the poem
The musical poem
With structure and form

So I’m trying to say
That after that day
I knew that school was all about
Giving me knowledge for day to day
But teaching me so much more
Teaching me how to live and
What to live for.

Because you only know what truth is
When you sit still enough to hear
I learned that’s what the liberal arts
Could make so clear.

ALL
The Liberal Arts
The Liberal Arts
Because you only know what truth is
When you sit still enough to hear.

Mr. T
Well, you two can really get on my nerves
I just don’t like people it’s true,
But you’re really all right you two.
I see what you’re trying to say.
Because it happened to me one day.

Mrs H and Ms Mc.
It did?

Mr. T.
It did.
Actually it was one night.

Mrs. H.
Oh, no, not one night.

Mr. T
Well, yes there was a girl
A beautiful girl
With brown eyes and brown hair
Who wore lots of leather
If I remember right
In my acting class.
But she was different than the others
Didn’t want to be a star
She studied and studied
Wanted to be a doctor
But I didn’t care
I just wanted to get with her
Backstage.

Mr. H.
Oh, please.

Mr. T
Well, anyway,
She wanted to go on this field trip
I didn’t really want to go
To the planetarium in Pittsburgh.

Mrs. H.
I didn’t know you lived in Pittsburgh

Mr. T
There’s a lot you don’t know.

So I signed up for the field trip
Flirted with her on the bus.
But she wouldn’t sit next to me
In a darkened room with us
Boys. I guess she was right.
Not to sit next to us boys that night.

So I was bored out of my skull
As the show began to start.
Just about to go to sleep
Until it happened.

Mrs. H and Ms Mc
What happened?

Mr. T.
Out came the stars
In the center of the winter night
They said I could see a hunter.
A hunter I didn’t see
They said two stars mark his shoulders
And two stars mark his knees
Then they outlined his form
Standing with his arms upraised,
A hunter standing strong
I saw Orion.
I saw the Orion Nebula

I’m trying to say
That after that day
I knew what school was all about
Giving me knowledge for my work
But teaching me so much more
Teaching me how to live and
What to live for.

Because you only know what truth is
When someone points you to the light
I learned what liberal arts can do
That fine winter’s night.

ALL
The Liberal Arts
The Liberal Arts
Because you only know what truth is
When someone points you to the light

Mr. T
That’s the day I wanted to teach drama

Ms. Mc
That’s the day I wanted to teach math

Mrs. H
That’s the day I knew I could teach English

All
The day we finally understood
And knew we could

Teach the liberal arts