Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Fun Parts

One of the best aspects of my job is the annual new plays festival I produce within my department. I've been doing it for a long time--loooooonnnggggg time!--and it is always fresh, exciting, challenging, and rewarding. My senior students (yes, undergraduates) write full-length plays from August to October, and, starting in November, we all start the train ride to performance. It is a ride that takes six months plus to complete.

This year, I have six students all busily writing. Three (at most) will get full productions, while the others will get two to three public staged readings with feedback sessions.

For those in full production mode, they will be working with a director, a cast, a lighting designer, and some other design help during the process. Each student will rewrite their play before and during the rehearsal process, and get a lot of mentoring in playwriting and directing areas from myself and other faculty. They will have two or three performances for audiences of about 125 spectators.

For those with staged readings, they will also get playwriting mentoring, a director, a cast, and two or three public performances of their script, complete with post-performance discussions sessions. This will help them move forward with the script.

My goal--in the end--is to familiarize the students with some form of production under guidence, so that next time it won't be so very unfamiliar and nerve-wracking. And to move them through the process from idea to performance (August to April) of writing, rewriting, and producing their own original work.

Along the way, of course, there are disappointments: three three who are produced are happy, the others with staged readings not so much... initially. Casting always produces the need for adjustment, as do staging realities. And this festival has gone from no support in the department, to too much (over-designing, over-supervision of students), to not enough again... This year we will have one designer, for lighting only. He is the best and an avid supporter of the festival (unlike his colleagues), but no extra student hands... unless I can recruit them. On the one hand: a blessing. Only people with great attitudes need apply, because it is a lot of work for little praise, recognition, or any kind of reward from above. On the other hand: will require more work from those involved. Like recruiting live music or composition or dance or film students to add texture to the shows.

In the end, this project more than any other is about process--and a little about product, too--but about the actual process of teaching something during a process. How to rewrite a play. How to direct an original play. How to work with a playwright and actors at the same time. How to produce magic with little budget, little help, and lots and lots of creative imagination and desire. Good lessons for budding playwrights, directors, actors, and designers.

I am sometimes torn between wanting more people to notice what we do--internally, like admin and colleagues--and sometimes happy few do. This is a situation in which the students do the work, whatw e're training them to do, and succeed or fail (and it is always somewhere in between, isn't it?) they LEARN.

And that's what teaching is about, from my point of view. Giving them the opportunity to learn.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Back Together

This weekend, everything fell together nicely. Lectures got prepared. Papers got graded. The apartment got picked up. I saw a student-directed project. My freezer and pantry are full after visits to Costco, Target, and the grocery store. In the unending cycle of life and life's work, some things actually got completed.

The magical word: completed.

Mondays are always... suddenly here.

I am looking forward to this week. 


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oy! Teaching!

Today was not a brilliant day in theatre history. We finished Roman theatre, focusing on acting, festivals, and the popular culture entertainment surrounding theatre.


Couldn't find the angle, the energy to make it an engaging class--which happens. The students didn't step up, either.

And... I'm bored. It happens, once every few months where I go through a massive boredom attack. Now. Which means I am over TV, Netflix, the stack of books I have piled up, and most everything else I can think of. Looking for something to engage my brain and imagination, which is harder than you think. Back to the current play?

Fortunately, I've got a paper coming up so I can focus on that. And it should be challenging, again because I've shaped an abstract with a HUGE subject: new ways of looking at actresses in late 19th-century Paris, connected to the new institutions of museums, department stores, photography, and flaneurie, a consideration of "seeing" that reconsiders how spectators saw the Actress. Visual culture, "seeing," the gaze, and spectatorship: really cool stuff.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Writing Workshop

Last weekend I taught a workshop for some of my sophomores, all young women, who are planning to hold a staged reading event of their writing next month. Most of them had never written a play, but had opted to start by writing a full-length piece of considerable weight.

Because that's what my students do.

So we did 3 hours of writing exercises. It was fun: they were a good group and jumped in without fear.

I'm looking forward to seeing what they finish with.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Week Four/Commute

Well, it is week four of the school year, and I have been missing my commute. This week it has been raining, I am really tired, and... yadda yadda excuse excuse.
The rain of the weekend started me on Monday to "ignore" the bike ride for the safety of the car... NO ONE is safe driving in DFW when the weather is anything but sunny and clear. Just a fact. So rain and bike do not automatically = accident, as my students suggested. Tuesday... same rain, same excuse. Today... just slllooooooowwwwww this morning, and needed the ability to leave the house at 8:40 for a 9:00 am class. (leave house, drive, park, pick up stuff from office, start class? Yeah, I can do that ALL in 15 minutes, no sweat--because I am an Academic Wonder Woman!)
I suspect part of it is because I also spent Saturday in a multi-person 2.5-hour web-conference (supposed to be 2 hours, but with aural problems and late arrivals became 2.5 hours) and Sunday in a 3-hour playwriting workshop with 8 students. So the weekend went--whish!--quicker than usual. Not enough down time/alone time for me.
I am also falling to bad habits of time crunching: no breakfast, napping late in the day so late sleeping time, not spending 15 minutes daily picking up the apartment, etc. That all trends back to having lunch prepared and ready to go for the bike, having the backpack prepared for the next morning, organizing clothes and accessories for the next day (or the week, which I prefer), handling the daily tasks of bills/laundry/paperwork/cleaning that always arise, and scheduling social time with friends and colleagues--so very important, but tough when you're juggling three courses, three committees, a conference paper, and an article.... and then some.
Back to Square One and gentle practice in getting these things into a routine. Which should take me until the end of October to establish as habits, anyway.

Work in progress, that's me.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Day Eight,Week Two of the Commute

Thus far, everything is... going smoothly. I am finally getting a handle on the timing involved in getting everything papcked into the bike, commuting, and then unpacking and preparing me for class each day. I teach four days weekly, so there are two distinctly different commutes: one that is for an all-day, two course + meetings commute, and one that is a single class, then gym commute.

I am definitely getting braver and more assertive about cars. Drivers in my 'hood tend to want to rule the road--especially in their Lexus/Mercedes-Benz/range Rover/Hummer mentalities (Big Expensive Cars). They do not want to dawdle behind a bike, even one as spiffy as mine. Luckily, there is little traffic, and everyone has been courteous when push came to shove. At stop signs or lights, for example.

Ironically, by near-collision came as a result of a mother opening the road-side backseat door to load her toddler into the car seat from THAT SIDE. Huh? The road is one parking lane and two driving lanes wide, with either side parking. The mother has the door wide open--into the lane, while the toddler stands next to her. Cars coming both ways, me on the bike... looked like disaster. Mom wasn't exactly rushing to get toddler out of harm's way, either.

Fortunately, both cars and I slowed way down and let her finish whatever.

My panniers have come in handy, since I am loading up backpack and panniers. Laptop, textbooks, and lunchbox go in panniers, while everything else goes in backpack. I am already considering ways to lighten the load by duplicating items to store at my office. But I still want to carry lunch: cost of lunch on-campus is just short of $10 daily (all you can eat buffet with sandwiches, salads, omelettes, etc.--healthy options!) and I can carry lunch for 1/4 of that. Since saving is one of my goals...

And the big weight will be relieved when I get my new laptop next week--a smaller, lighter MacBook. I am also investigating ways to cheat by not bringing textbooks, but copied pages/chapters... which means I won't feel so guilty marking them up, either.

Slowly, slowly.