The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

January 17, 2010

Rent surprises, criticizing/supporting/being discriminating about the arts, & this awesome young chick at Trustus named Katie Leitner

Who doesn’t love a surprise?  But when the Beer Doc and I scooted down Lady Street on Friday night to finally get a seat to see Rent, I wasn’t really expecting anything surprising.  Having seen it on Broadway several times before, then watching the film a couple of times with the wunderkind, I entered the theatre with a lot of the lyrics already buzzing in my head.  I was just looking for a fun evening to bask in what I thoroughly expected to be some outstanding performances — Dewey Scott Wiley rarely disappoints — and I was prepared for the requisite weaknesses that usually accompany community theatre.  Plus, I had already heard from some reliable sources who know their way around the stage and the audience (aka Larry & Coralee), that the show out-right rocked.

(Disclaimer here — I’ve had the honor of recently taking a seat on the board of directors of Trustus Theatre. What this basically means is that I have agreed to give the theatre some of  my time and my ideas — what this doesn’t mean is that I now have to think or say that everything that comes off the stage is excellent.  I’ve a been a long time supporter of Trustus, along with Workshop, Town, and USC theatre companies, and I will continue to support these companies along with all the artists, arts venues, and arts organizations in town who are brave and generous enough to share their gifts with our community.  Everyone already knows how I feel about negative competition between arts organizations in a city our size.  Way too much energy is wasted on one dance company nay-saying another, or one theatre company patron refusing to attend a perfectly lovely show at a venue different from the company they typically support.  Artists and arts supporters should band together to create a unified front against the ignorant amongst us who believe the arts and arts funding is a waste of time.  Nasty internal criticism within the arts community is tantamount to aiding and abetting any enemy of the arts — and believe me, they are out there.  Discriminating taste is needed and important — but helpful criticism takes a deft and acquired hand.  There is a role for the informed critic — to raise the barre, keep things honest, and piss people off — but that role is not mine. That said, I always have been and will remain a simple supporter of the arts and not a critic, and I will also continue to abide by the good manners I taught my own children:  If you don’t have anything good to say about something, then don’t say anything at all.)

Back to Rent and surprises —

The show started out wonderfully with the full cast opening up the classic Seasons of Love — you know, the five-hundred-twenty-five-thousand-six-hundred-minutes song — with full and melodic vocals — filling up the theatre and putting all of us on notice that this show was being taken seriously by its cast and director.  I had already heard that this was the case so, no surprise here, but still, a sense of pride and pleasure all the same.  And that was pretty much the way it went through the night — Kevin Bush was so professional, as always, reminding me how lucky we are that he is ours.  Lanny Spires knocked Angel out of the park and made me smile that a sweet southern boy from Chapin could pull off a part like that so adeptly.  Terrence Henderson’s voice sounded like warm butter oozing through stacks of steamy sweet pancakes, and I hated it when he stopped singing.  Even the less challenging parts were executed well and I wouldn’t call them weak at all.  In fact, the one weakness in my humble view was one of the night’s two surprises for me and I’m not even sure how it came to be.  Could have been a bad night, could have been poor casting, could have been an actor slipping precariously over the top with her/his performance — who knows. (Again, not my place to say.)

The other surprise is what I want to talk about — her name is Katie Leitner and her role was that of Mimi.  I know from reading my program that Katie is a freshman music ed student at USC, and that she has performed at Town Theatre in Grease, Guys and Dolls, and Beauty and the Beast. I know from Facebook stalking her that she graduated from Brooklyn Cayce High School, that her family is pretty cute, and that she has a sister who looks really familiar — former student maybe?  But I know from sitting in the first row Friday night that this girl has a future in the arts and I hope it’s not just in teaching little children how to play the piano.  Katie’s stage presence reflected great maturity — her vocals were controlled and balanced — beautiful, but never over the top, the way she could have taken them with such an audacious part as Mimi.  She displayed the kind of maturity that allows an actor to both own the stage and share it at the same time — lovely to see this in local theatre, especially in an actor so young.  For these reasons, Katie stole the show.

Kudos to Dewey Scott Wiley — who I have actually never met — and to the cast of Rent.  And best of luck to the young Katie Leitner — I’m looking forward to seeing more of this child on our city’s stages.

January 10, 2010

On the new USC semester, hibernating adjuncts, Pliny the Elder, and Fat-Tailed Dwarf Lemurs

Filed under: Holidays,USC,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 14:40
Tags: , ,

It hasn’t even been four weeks, really, since I turned in my final grades, stacked my notes and books in the least dusty of the corners in my office, and changed the time on my alarm clock to “whenever.”  And even though it wasn’t long ago enough, it still feels like longer than it was.  That’s because Christmas break for college students, professors, and instructors isn’t like Christmas break for American children.  For kids, it’s two weeks solid — unless your break starts on a Saturday — and really, why don’t all Christmas holidays always start on a Saturday, affording kids at least the illusion of an extra weekend without classes?  Otherwise, you just get two of everything — two Saturdays, two Sundays, two Thursdays.  And those days go by fast!  You’ve just finished making out your Christmas list when, suddenly, you’re opening presents, wadding up the ripped up remains of meticulously creased and taped packages, making room in your toy box for new junk, and just about the time the wheels on your Tonka truck start to spin with ease, you find yourself sitting dope-eyed at the kitchen table eating oatmeal and heading out into the cold January morning to go back to the same old unfulfilling drag that is elementary education.


For college kids and the kids who teach them though, Christmas break goes on just long enough to start feeling routine, then, whack, it’s time to start getting up early again, packing up all your little ditties in a satchel, and hauling your sore head back into the lab rat race.  But there is this time of fantasy that sneaks in sometime after Christmas is over and just before you absolutely have to have your syllabus completed.  Yeah, you have things you should be doing — things that need doing, but not so much that absolutely has to be done.  Right. This. Minute.  That’s when you pick up that novel you’ve been wanting to read, try to catch up on your tivo’d sit-coms, think about exercise.  But mostly, that’s when you hibernate.

As with pretty much everything out there in the world of culturally interpreted science, there’s a lot of mythology about hibernation; do bears actually hibernate and the like.  Pliny the Elder wrote about the hibernating nature of swallows — they don’t, of course — and that’s another good reason to question thousand-plus-year-old history, as if the Apologists weren’t enough.  And for years, there was the question of whether primates hibernate.  Turns out the Fat-Tailed Dwarf Lemur of Madagascar is all about hiding in a tree trunk for a good seven months out of the year and snoozing, so yeah, primates do.  But here’s the thing — so do academics, especially the adjunct kind, and I’m betting there are plenty of other primates who do so when the chance arises, as well.  A lot of what Christmas and Thanksgiving is about is eating large amounts of food and storing energy in fat deposits during a period of pseudo-dormancy.  Throw in some bedroom slippers, left overs, and boxed editions of series like the Office or Ally McBeal, and neither woman, monkey, nor man find it easy to move very much.

So, just as it ultimately does for the Fat-Tailed Dwarf lemur, the sun rises significantly for me and thousands of other USC kids and the kids who teach them tomorrow morning.  Like most of us, I love/hate the beginnings and endings of semesters.  A case of vertigo has kept me even more cave-bound than usual the past few days — and made me miss too many fine things going on in town, so I’m wondering whether Wee Blue Bug II will even run tomorrow morning, or if either of us will be able to find our way back to campus.  But, like the salmon, the sea turtle, and yes, even the sparrow, we’ll find our way along migratory paths determined long before us.

So, for those of us who must crawl out of our hibernation caves and back to the Ivory Tower tomorrow morning, I wish us well.  Happy Semester, USC Students, Faculty, and Staff.  Let’s be careful out there.

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