Moving to Texas

I am thrilled to officially announce my appointment as Professional Assistant Professor of Music at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, where beginning this August, I will be directing the Opera Workshop program and teaching voice. I look forward very much to working with the wonderful faculty and students and to this next adventure!

Did I mention that the campus is on its own island?

The campus of TAMUCC.

The campus of TAMUCC.

This means many changes ahead, and I am excited not only for the job but to get the chance to explore a part of the country with which I am not very familiar.  I am looking forward to getting to know Corpus Christi and nearby Padre Island, where I am sure I will be doing some birdwatching, swimming, and kayaking.  I am also looking forward to day and overnight trips as well as more extended vacations exploring all of these places within a day’s drive:  New Orleans, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, South Padre Island, Big Bend National Park, the Hill Country, and more!

Since we will be moving to a hot climate, it is fitting that Stephan and I visited Alaska last month, on a wonderful small boat cruise with Alaskan Dream, which was truly the vacation a lifetime.  We saw glaciers, humpback whales, bald eagles, numerous other types of birds, and some of the most beautiful, wild, landscapes imaginable.

Iceberg in Alaska's inside passage.

Iceberg in Alaska’s inside passage.

We have many more pictures (nearly 300!) uploaded to an album here:  Ellen and Stephan’s Alaskan Dream.

To new adventures, new colleagues, students, and friends!

Posted in Directing, Music, Teaching, Travel | Comments Off on Moving to Texas

How “Stars and the Moon” misses the boat

I’ve heard people gush about the song “Stars and the Moon” as having a positive message for women.  However, it is not a song about female empowerment.  Here’s why.

I don’t remember exactly when I was first exposed to the song “Stars and the Moon” from Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World, but I believe it was when a voice student brought it in wanting to sing it.  Since then, I’ve had several students sing the song over the years.  It’s a good song–very singable, in a good, middle range for singers of varying levels of ability and allows the singer to display acting ability.  Some students have been very excited about the “message” of the lyrics that money isn’t everything and it’s better to choose things that will make you happy.

The song is from the point of view of a woman who turned down two men who promised interesting life experiences because she preferred to have stability and wealth instead.  Then she married the wealthy man and realized there was more to life than money and maybe she had missed out on some things in life.  The lyrics are available here:

But the more I heard the song, the more the message made me uncomfortable.  I didn’t like the protagonist much.  She seemed shallow at the beginning, wanting only to say “yes” to a man who could provide the extravagant lifestyle she seemed to think she deserved (and though this is not in the song, reading between the lines, one can imagine that she must think pretty highly of herself and her looks and whatever other qualities she has that can presumably “win” her the right rich man).  But in the end, all she seems to have learned is that money isn’t everything, which is rather trite and not really all that interesting a revelation.  What she hasn’t learned is that relationships are a mixture of give and take—the song always lists the things the various men promise her, and never what she has to offer in return.  What she hasn’t learned is that sometimes you can go out and live your life without waiting for a romantic partner to “give” it to you.  In some ways, I like her less at the end of the song than the beginning, because she’s still selfishly focused on what another person can offer her and whining about what she will “never have.”  Any potential larger lesson seems to have gone right over her head.

Today, for some reason, I found the song stuck in my head.  It is a good song, with catchy lyrics, after all, even if the story rubs me the wrong way.  I had another realization of why I don’t like this woman much.  I don’t believe she is real.  Now, obviously, she’s a fictional character, but she comes across as more of a caricature than a real person.  Though the song is from her point of view, it doesn’t seem like an authentic woman’s voice.  It seems more believable to me that this is really the point of view of one of the men she turned down, who, when finding out via social media that she has married the rich guy, thinks to himself, “She’s going to be really miserable.  Someday she’ll realize that I could have offered her so much more.”  Then he writes a song ostensibly from her point of view, imagining a shallow, self-absorbed cardboard cutout of a person who really should have been in love with him because he had more interesting things to offer.

News flash!  No matter how nice or interesting a man is or what he may promise, a woman isn’t obligated to be romantically interested.  This sounds a lot more like male entitlement and male gaze than how a woman in the story might actually see herself.  The rejected suitor knows he “deserved” her and that someday she will regret not choosing him.  (“Yeah, she got her yacht, but I’m a nice guy!”  Sound familiar?)  He believes that he offered the better package deal than the other guy, therefore she should choose him.  If you give a woman nice things, she’s supposed to like you, right?  Even if those things are great, romantic, exciting experiences rather than money.   Now perhaps I’m reading things into the story and its characters that were never intended, but the idea that this song is really a construct of one of the men the woman rejects, rather than an authentic portrayal of what a woman might experience, feels like it makes more sense.

The woman in the song self-objectifies to the point that she sees herself as a commodity to be given to the highest bidder, willing to wait until she gets the right offer.  Guy #2, the one with the motorcycle, only wanted her to “spare a week—“ if she was really interested in him and the experiences he could offer, why on earth wouldn’t she say yes?  Because that would “spoil” her for the rich guy she is so sure is just around the corner?

Now, don’t get me wrong—I think the message that it’s ok to go out and have adventures and not play your whole life too safe, only to regret it later, is a good one.  The message that money isn’t everything is a good one.  But I’m not buying the woman in this song.  A real woman, I believe, would consider a relationship as a two-way street, not simply a transaction in which she shops for the best offer based on what he can give to her.  A real woman, if realizing that she played it too safe in her romantic or other adventures, would probably get out there and do something about it instead of whining that she will “never have the moon.”  A real woman might try to design her own life and go out and have some experiences without waiting for a man to give it all to her.  Sorry, Jason Robert Brown, but in this case you didn’t write a real woman.

Posted in Feminism, Music | Comments Off on How “Stars and the Moon” misses the boat

Doctoral Studies Almost Complete

I have not been a very regular blogger, but now that I am coming to the end of my doctoral studies, I hope to update this entire web site with some information on my more recent activities, including video links to performances and my lecture-recital. I hope to be able to share some news soon on where I am headed next.

Posted in Doctoral Studies | Comments Off on Doctoral Studies Almost Complete

Family Trip to Chincoteague

My family took several trips to Chincoteague Island when my sister and I were children. We developed a special fondness for the island and the wildlife there. We just returned from an excellent family vacation to Chincoteague and it lived up to all the excellent memories. Stephan and I, my sister Amy and her husband Jonathan, my father, John, and my uncle and aunt Bob and Rachel all rented a house for a week with a view of the sound, looking back toward the mainland, and just across a narrow channel from a small, marshy island with a few trees at the edge. We had a huge picture window overlooking this, and greatly enjoyed birdwatching right from the couch!

Highlights of the trip included:
–Enjoying the house: visiting with family, cooking dinner together, watching birds and sunsets from the living room and the outdoor deck, celebrating the same-sex marriage decision.

Chincoteague Sunset

Chincoteague Sunset

–Drives around the wildlife loop at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and the Beach Road to see all sorts of waterbirds, wild ponies, sika deer, and the beautiful natural landscape.

Wild Ponies on Assateague

Wild Ponies on Assateague

–Swimming and jumping waves on the pristine beaches of Assateague Island National Seashore.

Family Beach Trip

Family Beach Trip

–Taking a boat trip with Daisey’s Island Cruises, where we saw dolphins, osprey, a bald eagle, numerous other birds, and learned a lot about island history and about the pony swim.

–Getting to spend an hour or so at the Tom’s Cove Visitor Center with a park ranger who showed us and told us about lots of the birds on the island.

–A trip to the NASA Wallops Island Flight Facility open house, where we got to see how sounding rockets are built, talk to engineers and scientists, and learn about important projects like measuring soil moisture, sea ice levels, and other things via satellites, rockets, and airplanes.

Learning About Sounding Rockets

Learning About Sounding Rockets

Some of the favorite birds we saw included: the endangered piping plover, green herons, yellow-crowned night herons, black-crowned night herons, great blue herons, willets, osprey, bald eagle, little blue herons, tricolored herons, great egrets, snowy egrets, and cattle egrets, glossy ibises, several types of tern, brown pelicans, black skimmers…I think that covers the main ones!

Snowy Egret and Great Egret Near Sea Star Cafe

Snowy Egret and Great Egret Near Sea Star Cafe

On June 23 while on vacation I started doing 20 minutes of aerobic dance every morning and plan to keep it up. I do a fair amount of walking, yoga, and so forth, but I am very sporadic about working up a sweat and really getting in something aerobic every day. I figure this is a good baseline to start with and many days I will also get more exercise as well.

Now that I’m back, it’s time to get serious about studying for my qualifying exams!

Posted in Family, Travel | 2 Comments

Destroying Science Fiction, 930 Words at a Time

My story The Mouths came out in Lightspeed Magazine today, which has caused me to reflect on my own relationship with Science Fiction and gender.

Buy the issue here in paperback:
Lightspeed Magazine, June 2014 (Women Destroy Science Fiction special issue) (Volume 49)
Or here for Kindle:
Lightspeed Magazine, June 2014: Women Destroy Science Fiction! Special Issue

The beginnings of my history with Science Fiction are somewhat murky, I think because this came at a time in my life when I was such a voracious reader that it’s hard to pinpoint the chronology. I have stronger memories of reading some of my favorite fantasies for the first time—The Lord of the Rings and Watership Down,–because they made a huge impression on me when I was still quite young. I carried both of these around elementary school for years and read and reread them. It’s not that I didn’t read other books, but to me, nothing else really measured up.

At some point as a teenager I began to read Science Fiction. I may have started with Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books, books which I enjoyed, but didn’t feel the need to obsessively reread. I read classic sci fi, enough that I don’t even recall all the titles and authors now, as some of them seemed to blend together. I know these included A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr., and Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. My memories of these books are pretty old now, but I do recall at some point getting burned out, particularly by Heinlein, because I got tired of the overwhelming maleness of it all. I’d read stories by male authors with male protagonists for most of my life—that wasn’t the issue. But something in certain classic sci fi seemed not just to ignore women, but to actively belittle them and reduce them to caricature. This isn’t something I plan to try to quantify by going back and looking for specific examples. I’m sure this has been done. It’s just a gut feeling I had, and once I noticed it, the reading wasn’t much fun anymore.

[Edited to add: I did want to provide a link to a blog post about Heinlein and sexism that conveys some of what I recall feeling, since my own memory is too vague for specifics: Is Heinlein’s Writing Sexist by Jonathan Korman]

Sometime after high school, I decided there had to be more to Science Fiction than what I had read. I sought out more Science Fiction by women, and discovered the work of writers including Octavia Butler and Sherri Tepper. I started to love Science Fiction again. Since then, I’ve enjoyed science fiction by a multitude of authors of both genders. It’s a wonderful art form, a literature of ideas, of the new and strange, a way to make us examine ourselves in ways we may not have ever considered.

I never thought I would write it. I’m a musician and the only science I took beyond high school was “Earthquakes and Volcanoes—”a dummed-down geology for performing arts majors. I love science and grew up watching the original Cosmos. But I don’t have the background to understand the details, and this means I can’t write them convincingly.

Except maybe something anthropological, and very short—lean on the details. After all, I may not know much hard science, but I can spin weird ideas with the best of them. For me as a writer, the beauty of speculative fiction is being able to examine ourselves by pitting us against the Other—something non-human, whether a dryad, merman, or alien. I didn’t set out to write Science Fiction when I wrote The Mouths. I just had a what-if and went with it. I envisioned the strange creatures who consumed but never did anything, and worked out a framework in which to present them. I do recall brainstorming this story at TNEO (The Never-ending Odyssey, an annual workshop for Odyssey grads) way back in 2008 and getting some good inspiration to actually sit down and write it.

I’ve read it aloud at a bookstore reading and at least one convention, and have come to the conclusion that I’d usually rather read something funny. When you read something very short and very weird, it’s difficult to gauge the audience’s reaction. Do the confused looks mean they didn’t get it? Didn’t like it? Or are they just processing the weirdness?

I’m not doing much non-academic writing these days as being a doctoral student in music is consuming much of my energy, but I did promise myself I would continue to submit. Since The Mouths is really the only thing I’ve written that qualifies as Science Fiction, I submitted it to the Lightspeed special issue just to feel like I had something out on the market. I didn’t expect to get an acceptance, not just because I knew it would be competitive, but because I am honestly not sure sometimes what to make of the story myself. It’s short. It’s weird. Is it any good? I suppose the moral of that story is to let an editor decide, and then see what the readers think. I can’t even begin to quantify how thrilled I am to be included in the table of contents with some of the “big guns” in Science Fiction. I got my contributor’s copy today and look forward to some reading time in the weeks ahead.

Posted in Science Fiction, Writing | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Summer begins

I’ve done a bit of sprucing up and updating of the various pages here, including uploading some songs from my recent doctoral recital to my Performance page. Drop by and give them a listen!

In other news, I survived a pretty busy semester of doctoral studies, in which I did quite a bit of performing—in addition to my recital, I performed a role in Love Games, a new musical by Joseph Turrin based on a play by Viennese playwright Arthur Schnitzler. This was lots of fun and involved my character, the Actress, being a total bitch and seducing two very different men. Oh, and singing a song about infidelity while jumping on a bed! I also took a songwriting class this semester, and in addition to performing the songs of other students in the class, I wrote lyrics and composed music for some songs as well. On our final recital, we performed the compositions members of the class had composed and also some of our favorite American songs we had been assigned to sing over the course of the class. I am now very close to completing my doctoral coursework, which is exciting!

Eddie Brennan and Ellen Denham as the Count and the Actress in Love Games

Eddie Brennan and Ellen Denham as the Count and the Actress in Love Games

Stephan and I and family took a wonderful trip to Jamaica earlier this month, in which, among other things, we did some backcountry caving which involved slogging through an underground river up to our waists for quite a while, crawling on hands and knees, climbing, and generally getting very wet and muddy. I’ve always wanted to do something like that as opposed to the tamer cave visits with handrails and walkways and electric lights that we have in southern Indiana. Actually, I can’t wait to do some more rough caving! With an experienced guide, of course. Other highlights of the trip included swimming in the absolutely perfect waters, shopping for fruits and veggies in the Falmouth market, jumping in a pristine river at Blue Hole, and relaxing, eating great food, drinking rum and Red Stripes. I absolutely love Jamaica and especially love getting off the beaten path and outside of the major tourist areas.

I’ll be teaching at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp again later this summer. In the meantime, I’m catching up on some writing and submitting (submitted two short stories and one scholarly article over the weekend) and doing some freelance grantwriting and editing projects.

Posted in Doctoral Studies, Singing, Travel, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Summer begins

Story sale and other news

Mai tai on Waikiki beach

Mai tai on Waikiki beach

Wow, this blog has accumulated some dust and cobwebs since I was last here. I thought I should drop in and share some of the exciting things I’ve been doing for the past several months!

For starters, I sold a story to Lightspeed Magazine. I am thrilled that I will be part of the special “Women Destroy Science Fiction” issue this June with my story, “The Mouths,” featuring some aliens so bizarre that even the narrator can’t quite figure them out. You can read more about this exciting special issue here: Women Destroy SF.

I have just completed a run of “Orpheus in the Underworld” with the University of Illinois Lyric Theatre. Which role did I play? Assistant Director! This was part of my cognate, or minor, in Theatre. It was a great experience. I learned a lot and got to do quite a bit of hands-on work, such as individual coaching of singer/actors, taking and giving notes to performers, running dance brush-up rehearsals, etc. The show was a great success. Read more about it and see some photos here:

In January, I had a wonderful time at the Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities, where I presented my paper “Schubert and Goethe: A Transcendence of Competing Aesthetics.” My paper is available in the Conference Proceedings here. Of course, I also enjoyed a few mai tais on the beach, some hiking, swimming, and watching the sun set over the ocean. Not a bad way to start the year!

Posted in Directing, Doctoral Studies, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Story sale and other news

Aloha, Hawaii!

I am happy to announce that I will be presenting my paper, “Goethe and Schubert: A Transcendence of Competing Aesthetics” at the Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities. I submitted the paper at the urging of my teacher, and then when it got accepted, realized just how unlikely it would be that I would raise the funds to actually attend. Over lunch with a friend, I was discussing my predicament, and something really amazing happened (this is verbatim from a Facebook post I made on September 5):

I have an experience to share that left me feeling grateful and humbled. While having lunch with Christopher Cayari, I was lamenting the fact that I had a paper accepted at a conference in Hawaii, for which I am applying for a travel grant, but the grant has a maximum of [x] and it would take me at least twice that to make it feasible to attend the conference. I think I mentioned that I was hoping to get some matching funds from another source, but had not had much luck. “If I could just get some other source to match [x], I think I could do it!” I must have said. A woman who was about to exit the restaurant laid a $10 bill on the table in front of me and said, “Now you only need [x-10].” This happened so fast that I wasn’t really able to process what she had just said or done until she was out the door, so I did not even get the chance to properly thank her. I’m sorry to admit that the first thing I felt was not gratitude, but a sense of shame that there I was having lunch out in a restaurant (I could have packed a sandwich) and someone I didn’t even know thought I needed financial help. But the second thing I felt was that I had just learned a very profound lesson. I put the $10 in a bottle marked “Hawaii Fund” and it is out on my desk to remind me of the generosity of a stranger and that I can find a way to make this happen, maybe by taking on an additional private student, maybe by doing a fundraising recital, maybe finding another grant (I don’t even know if I’ll get the first one yet). Thank you to the anonymous donor for the cash, and more importantly, the lesson!
Since then, I have been awarded a travel grant from the Graduate College of the University of Illinois, and a scholarship from the MONC fund in addition to my first anonymous donation. This should cover my conference registration and about 1/3 of my plane ticket. I am hoping to raise additional funds by presenting a workshop in Indianapolis (Indy folks stay tuned). I don’t like taking money without giving anything in return, however, I did put a Paypal “Donate” button on this blog just in case anyone, like the anonymous donor who got me started on the way, would like to chip in.

My paper topic is about artistic collaboration, which is a subject very near and dear to my heart. Here is the abstract of my paper:

Would Goethe have appreciated Schubert’s settings of his poems? It is not difficult to ascertain what Goethe thought about music—he corresponded with the composer Carl Zelter for more than thirty years, came up with an outline for a theoretical system, wrote texts specifically intended to be set to music (including a sequel to Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte), and commented frequently about music in his writings. It is not clear how to interpret his near-silence about the work of Schubert. This paper examines recent scholarship on the relationship (or lack thereof) between poet and composer, including Lorraine Byrne Bodley’s Schubert’s Goethe Settings, Sterling Lambert’s Re-Reading Poetry: Schubert’s Multiple Settings of Goethe, and Kenneth Whitton’s Goethe and Schubert: The Unseen Bond, presenting both sides of the argument regarding whether Goethe would have appreciated Schubert, some additional speculations, and further analysis. The debate has largely been framed by the question of whether Goethe was musical, which might be the wrong question to ask. Perhaps the greatness of Schubert’s Goethe settings is partly due to, not in spite of, the two men’s different sensibilities. The story of Goethe and Schubert contains a valuable lesson for artistic collaboration: a shared sense of aesthetics is not a prerequisite for creating excellent collaborative art.

I’m very excited to be attending this conference!

Posted in Doctoral Studies, Travel | Comments Off on Aloha, Hawaii!

Otherness at the Indy Convergence, or When Art Imitates Life

This blog post was intended to discuss the piece I recently directed at the Indy Convergence on the subject of Otherness, and I will do so. However, considering the nature of the subject and with recent events that highlight just how much Otherness vs. privilege plays a role in our lives, there is some politics involved toward the end of this post. You have been warned.

What is Otherness? In a nutshell, it’s the result, conscious or unconscious, of putting someone in a category that means they are Not Like Us. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If I’m walking down the street, I can’t afford to assume that everyone I meet is a wonderful person who just needs a hug. For my own safety, I don’t choose to stop and have a conversation with the stranger who says, “Hey, baby” as I pass by. But once you’ve put someone in that category of “Other,” they are essentially a non-person. It’s ok if bad things happen to them—things that could never happen to us, because, of course, we’re not like them. We have to be really careful how and in what context we deploy this categorization, be aware of when we’re doing it, and recognize that it often causes more harm than good. It is a pair of blinders we put on when bad things happen that makes us feel safe, because bad things happen to the Other—not to us.

This is a theme I explore frequently in my writing. Fantasy and science fiction are excellent ways to deal with the subject since you can have non-human characters—the ultimate Other. When I was brainstorming about a project I could propose for the 2013 Indy Convergence that could be developed collaboratively based on the input and experiences of all participants, I’d already thought of using dancers in fabric bags to represent something non-human. This is an idea I got from choreographer Kirstie Simson, one of the professors leading the COLAB improvisation class with musicians and dancers that I took in the fall.

Going into the rehearsal process at the Indy Convergence, a two-week arts residency for collaborative work, I first gave a short presentation and led a discussion on the subject of Otherness to help determine the interests of the participants. I knew I wanted to end with a “humans vs. blobs” scene, but wanted to stay open to the thoughts and interests of participants. We practiced vocal improvisation, we storyboarded, we improvised scenes, and eventually we had a piece to present for the Open Lab Performance. The idea of the Convergence is to have just enough time to get something on its feet, giving it the freedom to be a work in progress, and using the audience as a tool to gauge success. With all the talents of the participants, the collaboration became much greater than something that I or any of us could have done alone. Though if we had had more time, I would have liked to put some more polish on things, I was extremely pleased with the overall result. All photos below are by Roberta Wong, lighting and projections are by Ian Garrett, and the set is by Lee Rainboth.

The piece had five sections, including two poems for two voices, which is something we workshopped with participant and poet Leah Falk. One poem, by Leah, dealt with the Otherness between a husband and wife, and the other was inspired by an article by artist Haley Morris-Cafiero,
“How I Got Back at the Strangers Who Mock Me for Being Fat”
. Morris-Cafiero does an excellent job of shining a light on the unpleasantness that occurs when we decide someone is Other by having her assistant shoot film of people making fun of her behind her back for her size.

Poem for Four Voices

Colleen Laliberte, Laura Krause, Adriana Dimitri, and Ashley Benninghoff read a poem for 4 voices. Photo by Roberta Wong.

Another scene featured a giant puppet, constructed by Christina Feinberg and Colleen Laliberte, who narrated an introduction to the subject of Otherness while accompanied by a soundscape of voices and instruments.

Frankie the Puppet

Frankie, puppeteered by Colleen Laliberte, Robert Negron, and Christina Feinberg, talks about Otherness. Photo by Roberta Wong.

The two main scenes were titled “The Other in the Forest” and “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral.” We moved from Otherness on a very personal level (woman gets treated as a non-person because of her physical appearance) to Otherness on an intergalactic level (humans travel to planet where the inhabitants are sentient rocks). In between, we stopped by an enchanted forest to explore a type of Otherness that primarily affects women: slut-shaming and victim-blaming.

“The Other in the Forest” was loosely inspired by a novella I’ve written imagining dryads once lived in the Indiana Territory when the first white settlers arrived. To the accompaniment of voices, violin, and wooden sticks, a young man is told by his parents not to go out into the forest because the Forest People have been seen again—tree spirits, and bird spirits, promiscuous creatures who would “draw you into their nakedness” and drive you insane.

Forest Scene 1

Joshua Morris and Sara Yanney-Chantanasombut tell Tommy Lewey not to go into the forest. Photo by Roberta Wong.

Of course, he goes, and because he has been told they are promiscuous, he believes that he is owed sex.

Dryad Says "No"

Caitlin Negron and Ashley Benninghoff as the dryad and tree reject Tommy Lewey and Robert Negron as the young man and his alter ego. Photo by Roberta Wong.

All participants workshopped the rape scene, and the result, though I’m biased, I have to say was pretty devastating. The orchestra of voices represented the voice of the dryad as she is ripped away from her tree.

Participants sing a musical phrase representing the voice of the dryad. Photo by Roberta Wong.

Afterwards, the boy’s parents hunt her down for “ruining his life” and the orchestra joins in a chorus of slut-shaming as she is burned.

“Animal, Vegetable, Mineral” features three explorers who travel to the mineral-rich planet hoping to mine it.

Explorers arrive on blob planet.

Kristin Bowlby, Colleen Laliberte, and Lee Rainboth arrive to mine the planet. Photo by Roberta Wong.

Unbeknownst to them at first, the “rocks” they see are sentient and have their own dance, accompanied by the orchestra of voices and instruments.

The blobs dance

Ashley Benninghoff, Tommy Lewey, Joshua Morris, Caitlin Negron, and Sara Yanney-Chantanasombut dance as blobs. Photo by Roberta Wong.

While the anthropologist discovers the sentience of the rock creatures and tries to get to know them, the other two are only interested in the financial potential. When the second sun is about to rise, the blobs get agitated and move toward the humans in a way that is seen as hostile. Too late, after one of the humans has shot all the blobs dead, the anthropologist realizes that the blobs were trying to shield them with their bodies from the ravages of the deadly second sun.

Second sun burns explorers to death

Kristin Bowlby and Colleen Laliberte are burned to death by the harsh sun of the alien planet. Photo by Roberta Wong.

There’s a lot more I could say about the process, how wonderful the Convergence is, how much I appreciate and value the contributions of every participant, but what strikes me today is how deadly categorization as the Other is in real life, for someone like Trayvon Martin. To quote Mack the Knife in The Threepenny Opera, voicing the views of his creator, Bertolt Brecht, “Art isn’t nice.” I chose Otherness as a subject because I believe it is a real problem in society. How successful the project was in getting this across is debatable, but not, I feel, the fact that art can and should imitate life and sometimes hold up a mirror to show a side of ourselves that we’d rather not see.

Rampant categorization of people as the Other isn’t just a bad idea; it can get someone killed. At its root, the problem is a failure of imagination. President Obama once said that if he had a son, he might look like Trayvon Martin. If I had married an African-American man and had human babies instead of furry ones, I might have a son that looked like Trayvon Martin. But why do we have to look at skin color as the determining factor between someone being Other and someone being just like our son? I grieve for him and his family because he could have been my son, or my friend, my neighbor, my colleague, my student. People who aren’t outraged that an unarmed young man was shot and killed in his own neighborhood without consequence have placed him in a category that such things can happen to and themselves and their families in a category where they can’t. This may sound harsh, but think about if for a minute. If you worried that something like this could happen to your son, would you feel differently?

Perhaps this sounds like I’m preaching, and I don’t mean to. What I would like to do is plead for all of us, myself included, to be aware when we’re categorizing someone as Other and to try, just try, to imagine ourselves in their shoes. And for those of us in the arts, I plead that we all keep holding up that mirror so we can see our ugly faces when we need to be reminded of our collective failures of imagination.

Posted in Directing, Indy Convergence | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Web site overhaul

It’s been needed. I wasn’t that happy with my old web site, because I was coding with outdated html skills, but every time I wanted to update it with one of those auto page-builders, I got grumpy because I couldn’t control the layout and make it the way I wanted. I’ve had the wordpress blog for a while and wanted to integrate the rest of my content to just make it my web site, but I hadn’t taken the time to do it.

So, *drumroll* I’m unveiling the new page today! I’ve even integrated all my old blog posts from livejournal. I’m a little concerned with how to keep wordpress functioning smoothly, because I haven’t updated to the most recent version (there’s something else I need to make that work and I’m going to have to do some research). When I tried to update the theme, I crashed the whole thing and the nice folks at my hosting company,, had to put it right again.

In other news, Stephan and I had a lovely 14-mile kayak trip on the Blue River yesterday and I’m feeling nicely refreshed.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Comments Off on Web site overhaul