Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Travelogue and Character Studies

I like to travel. I like airports. Mind you, I wouldn't want to do it everyday, but every now and then its pretty fun. I travelled to the Columbia Airport with my friend Ian, who was flying home to New York. We chatted a bit in the waiting area until it was time to board my flight. I didn't really speak to anyone again until my brother picked me up in Salt Lake. But I watched everybody, and I saw some fascinating people. I had a blank piece of paper with me, so I took some notes on a few interesting people.

Mr. Flight Attendant Kid
He is young, possibly younger than me. At least, he looks unimpressed with everything - a sure sign of youth, I hear. He drones out the safety procedures litany with barely disguised boredom and cynicism, obviously reciting the words from memory without making any attempt to communicate by giving the words meaning. You can tell by the way his breath pauses appear unnaturally in the middle of a phrase. Throughout the flight, he does as little as possible to fulfill his function, then retreats to his little cubby at the front of the plane where he is invisible from the passengers (except for me) and promptly begins to play what looks like a football game on a PSP he keeps hidden in his pocket. Despite his ineptitude, I find myself liking him. How did a guy like this end up in a job he is so marvelously ill-suited for? He seems to unhappy with it, too. I want to say to him, "Look, you like to snowboard," (I imagine he is an avid snowboarder) "so if thats what you love, find a job in some resort town in the mountains and do it!" He blinks at me in surprise and says, "Ok, man. Groovy."

Foreign Girl
She speaks with an elegantly clear articulation of second-language English speaker, her European accent is beautiful; as is she, in her way. Her face is shaped unlike any American's. Her eyebrows are impeccable. But its her voice that is most interesting. I listen hopefully for her to speak, as I settle down into my seat next to her, so that I can hear that marvelous dialect again. She speaks very little after we are settled, and though I'd love to listen to her all day, I keep silent too. I talk enough - on this trip I've chosen only to observe. She is reading a book in her native language that looks slightly like Italian, but isn't. I want to know what it is, but don't think she wants any attention drawn to her foreigness today. She probably gets that enough. At one point, she closes the book to gaze thoughtfully out the window, and I can see from the cognates on the cover that she has been reading "Animal Farm." Her choice of material intrigues me - it's possibly or even likely that her native country had at one time worn the garments of communism, as was the fashion for many eastern european countries. I bet she would have a lot to say about Orwell's political fable, but for now she looks out at the clouds and the blue, blue sky and seems to care not a bit for such earth-bound sociopolitical dilemmas.

Mexican Man
As I wander the Chicago airport to stretch my legs, I pas a gate with the words "Mexico City" boldly represented in LED lights above it. Sitting here are a small crowd of native Mexicans, including a man in perhaps his 30s in a cowboy hat and boots, looking thoroughly grumpy. I imagine that such a look of unhappiness betokens more than just a trip home for the holidays. I imagine that perhaps his new life in the States has not worked out as he had hoped, the American Dream which had drawn him from his native land and family had failed to materialize, as it often does not for so many people. But then I wonder if this is needlessly socialist of me, and if perhaps the man's dissatisfaction comes merely from the rigors of travel, or a romantic conflict, or a death in the family or any of huge host of possibilities. If I actually knew him, I wouldn't have so many interesting options to choose from.

Stewardess Lady
The head stewardess is a matronly middle aged woman ith an air of elegance summed up in the little blue scarf tied so delicately about her neck. I swear I've seen her before, but perhaps airline stewardess simply all have that same look about them. She seems old enough to have grandchildren yet here she is, a glorified waitress in the sky, pouring me a cup of 7up with all the grace and charm of an English lady at tea-time.

The People Behind Me
Some of the most interesting people I encountered on my journey sat behind me, where I could hear their voices but never see their faces. On my first flight, an elderly lady talked of her life as a nurse and how she was planning to retire in a few years. I imagine her at her retirement party, receiving the thanks and adoration she richly deserves. I think a nurse is a great thing to be. Florence Nightengale was a famous nurse. My grandmother was a nurse too, but she wasn't famous, except to her progeny. There's something bittersweet and wonderful about being a nurse. Hurray for nurses, I say.

On my second flight, the guy behind me worked in "business," selling technology to health care providers. I'm glad people like this guy exist, but I could never do it. I thought to myself idly that business man probably makes a lot more money than the nurse ever did. She comforted and healed human lives. He sells computer programs. What a world.

Mr. 13C
My neigbhor, Mr. 13C, is a distressingly old looking large man who spends most of the flight alternating between reading a pulp novel in large print and snoring uncomfortably with his glasses down to the end of his nose. His wife of 43 years (a number I made up and assigned to them) sits in 13D, across the aisle. It seems a shame that they should be so separated after having endured so much together. I'd trade seats with her if they asked, but they do not. After they get up several times, I realized they probably both wanted aisle access to use the bathroom. I feel depressingly immature as I glance at their distressingly old faces and think to myself that it is impossible that I should ever be so old. I don't know how I would endure it. But then the fates, seizing the opportunity to teach me a lesson, draw my eyes across the way to 13E and 13F, where sits another couple who could easily have been the parents of Mr. 13C. They are ancient, and shake softly but constantly with age. They look unimpressed with everything - a sure sign of age, I hear. Next to them, Mr. 13C and Mrs. 13D look spritely and vibrant. Everything's relative, the fates tell me.

Mr. 5E
The minute I notice him in the waiting area of Gate B1 (my gate too) I am won over totally. He is young, but not too young, his shortish brown hair spiked up trendily, wearing a preppy/punky sweater and jeans. This is not what wins me over about him. His face is constructed like a Greek hero's (of course! the face I always wanted, but never had), a mixture of stubbly man-jaw and innocent boy-brown eyes. This is not what wins me over about him either. No, what kills me about him is that he is reading a book, a thick, worn novel whose title I can't make out, and not only reading it (a very unfashionable activity for members of our generation) but devouring it with such intensity that he barely notices the chair he sits on, let alone my growing curiosity. I imagine that he is a graduate student, like me, at some university in Chicago, studying literature or something equally idealistic and foolish (like acting?), heading home to Salt Lake City, like me, for Christmas. I find myself wishing we happen to sit next to each other on the flight, where we would happen to stike up a conversation bout poetry, culture, politics, or whatever. He corrects me on some false fact I present, lectures me at some length on his opinion of the postmodern literary movement, and nods appreciatingly when I make a good point about the function of art in society. He laughs at my jokes.

Somehow I end up behind him in line to board the flight, and when he brings his ticket bearing hand up to his head to scratch his hair, I get a glimpse of his seating assignment: 5E, far away from my 13B. Oh well.

I look for him at the baggage claim, to see if he had any friends or loved ones there to greet him. I hope that he does, but he is alone. He takes his bag and goes into the door marked "Rental Cars." If we had sat next to each other and talked, I could have saved him some money by getting my brother to give him a lift. But we didn't. So long Mr. 5E, I feel certain we would have gotten along just fine.

I keep getting the feeling that, even were social awkardness not a factor, there would never possibly be enough time in the span of my life on this planet to meet all the people who I'd probably be glad to meet.

Friday, December 08, 2006

First Semester Retrospective

The following is an excerpt from a paper for one of my courses, detailing the essence of my progress this first semester. It is applied specifically to the art of acting, so you actors out there may find it especially interesting, but the heart of it is pretty good stuff thats useful in almost anything if you are interested, and frankly I can understand if you didn't want to read some boring paper I wrote for class...


We were told that the first semester of graduate school was going to be rough, but I don’t think I really understood what that meant. After all, the obvious problems of adjusting to a new and rigorous schedule, meeting high expectations, multi-tasking various assignments for several different classes, and still finding time to stop and breathe every now and then were daunting, yet hardly something I had not encountered before in my scholastic life. But what I did not understand was how challenging the first semester was going to be mentally, because basically what I found myself experiencing was a complete paradigm change, a total revaluation of myself and the very art of acting.

I came, as did we all, with a lot of preconceived notions about what “good acting” meant, and what we needed to learn to do it. I think perhaps the biggest step forward I’ve experienced in this first semester is simply beginning to be aware of what the aesthetic of acting taught here is, and how to describe it, and how it differs from my previous expectations. What is the difference between polished theatrical technique, and true artistic authenticity, and how do they work together? What does it mean for the whole organism to be involved in the art, rather than just the logic-minded part of the brain? When I came to learn to be a good actor, I did not expect that I would have to spend a great deal of time simply relearning what good acting means, but this has been truly and lastingly beneficial. I will continue to clarify my ideas of the art of acting throughout my study here and throughout my life. The first semester consisted mainly of gaining an awareness of where I’m actually going and taking my first few tentative steps in that direction.

This course in specific gave me a great awareness of my own instrument, my body. Another great lesson I’ve learned in the course of the semester is the absolute miracle and wonder that is the human body. As we worked on body mapping and refining my image of my self and how I am put together, I began to see myself in a whole new light. I began to feel that, with a correct mental map of the body, I was in more control of myself and had more power and potential. One amusing example of this was when I went dancing and, with a suddenly more exact idea of how my hips and pelvis are connected to the rest of my body, I was able to “shake my groove thing” (to use the colloquial phrase) with more agility and prowess than ever before. This may be an irrelevant example, but I think it illustrates that with a greater understanding of the inner workings of the body, there is more potential and control that the actor can bring to the art. Also, by connecting the mental image of the body to the physical reality, we are beginning to break apart the artificial divide between mind and body, spirit and substance, which has been another theme of the semester.

Impulse work has proven very useful in beginning to get to the heart of the new aesthetic of acting that I have accepted as my professional goal. If one is ever to tune out the constant and ever-present self-critical voice that prevents true living in the moment (an old teacher of mine called this voice the “yabba-yabba,” and I’ve adopted that name), then I think it is necessary to learn to be more sensitive to the actual impulses of the body, the authenticity of the organism at any given moment. Ideally, this awareness of the self can grow so strong and focused that it replaces the yabba-yabba entirely. I found that in working with genuine impulses, it always took me a while in the exercise to get past my conscious anxieties and truly give over to the impulses. It became easier and easier to do so as we continued to work, and so it seems to me that a true awareness of the desires and impulses of the self without self-judgment or critique (which sounds so Zen, and really it is) is similar to kineaesthetic awareness of the movement of the body without tension in that it must be cultivated and developed and habitualized, but with practice it can become second nature. That, at least, is my goal.

All of the courses we took this semester seemed to possess a unifying theme that has been life-altering and inspiring for me, and that is that I (the whole organism of mind, body, and soul that makes me up) am more capable than I give myself credit for. I begin to think that I am not good enough or lacking some way that I need to fix through effort, strain, and tension both physical and psychological. What we have discovered this semester is that, ironically, when we add that extra strain we prevent ourselves from being as effective and amazing as we could. And then when we strip away that excess effort, that push, we not only become more strong and stable, as we’ve seen in Suzuki class, we become (forgive me is this is too abstract) more authentic, more powerful, more alive, and more human. Audiences are intelligent enough to recognize extra strain and effort and they immediately recognize it as false. It is those actors who can simply be, without extra stress, who trust in their whole organism to be good enough, that pull us in and move us to tears. Uncovering the right path to achieve that artistic state of pure authenticity, supported but not overwhelmed by rigorously practiced and polished technique, is now the primary goal of my study in the program.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Announcement

Attention everybody. I will be returning to Utah to celebrate the holidays on the 18th of December, and I will be staying until the 8th of January. Prepare yourselves, for I am coming.

That is all.

Monday, November 27, 2006

On Thanksgiving and Stuff

Well the Thanksgiving break is over already. This year marked the first celebration of the holiday in many years in which I was not with my extended family in Utah enjoying Grandma's celebrated home-style cooking, but I was able to make it enjoyable none the less. Yes, the day is all about family, but what is so great about the holiday (and what makes it perhaps my favorite of all holidays) is that people who aren't family, who are in fact perfect strangers, go out of their way to make a family together, if only for that one day, for that one meal. I ate the feast with a group of local transplants from Utah, like me, and though I barely knew them we became a family together as we enjoyed the meal and gave thanks for how lucky we really are. So while I missed my family terribly, I was far from lonely on the big day.

Besides the expected self-indulgent food rampage on Thursday, my weekend also included a trip to Savannah, Georgia with some of my dear friends (for pictures, look me up on Facebook). This year I learned a lot of things about life over the holiday break. One of which is make sure you pee before you walk around downtown Savannah, because they don't believe in allowing the public access to restrooms there. Little tidbits like that really add to one's overall wisdom.

I wish to say a few words on the subject of wishbones. My previous philosophy regarding the proper way to make a wish on a wishbone was to keep it simple, specific, and fathomably attainable. This prevents one from wishing for something beyond the power of a mere wishbone to possibly grant (world peace would be nice and all, but really, its just a little bone). Well I learned this year that there's also a danger in making the wish TOO specific or time-limited, because then the slightest little thing can prevent the wish from happening. My wish, for example, was foiled by bad breath brought about by an exotic arabian food dinner. Better to give the wishbone time and a range of options in its effort to help you out. Well, live and learn.

Thanksgiving never fails to remind me what an ingrateful jerk I am. I spent the weekend meditating on my little hissy fit last week and boy am I embarrassed. The pettiness, the jealousy, the indignant arrogant outrage! They are rampant in this business and I guess I get caught up in it all. But thats not the person I want to be. It's my choice. Every day sends undeserved blessings, each one part of the joy of being alive. I'm done with my complaining. I'm going to start celebrating. Dear friends and loved ones, please hold me to this and call me on it if I start getting petty again. I don't want that life.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

An Endless Cycle of Discouragement

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the forces of Fate are combined for one ultimate purpose: to defeat and destroy me. That may be dramatic and illogical, but it does give me a sense of importance I would otherwise lack; and, as I've said before, it is easier to accept cosmic enmity than cosmic apathy.

Not too long ago I was riding on a new surge of confidence after a highly successful audition for summer work. That confidence has been challenged by a grueling weekend of auditions for our upcoming mainstage shows. First off, let me say that I was screwed in the beginning, before the auditions even happened, because of the selection of the plays. They are great plays stuffed with great parts that I cannot play, for one reason or another. Most call for an age or a look or quality that I do not possess, or, even more likely, am not perceived by the powers that be to possess. A good chunk are beyond my admittedly raw and yet untrained acting capacitiy. So I went in to the process with modest expectations, not expecting a lead or anything of the sort. But I had in mind the kind of roles that I would probably be considered for. This was based upon years of being in shows in Utah, where I developed a sense of what people would cast me as. That sense, it turns out, is completely wrong in this new location.

In Utah, I was typecast as the young male lover: Romeo, Lysander, Claudio, Orlando, Sebastian - that sort of thing. Here, they have apparently decided I am a character actor. I will be playing Sir Andrew in an MFA directing student's production of Twelfth Night, which will be fun as it will be a lot of me prancing about the stage acting silly, trying to be manly, and crying a lot, but will hardly be demanding (I mean, it won't really require any acting, will it?). I will finish off the glorious semester in the mainstage production of "As You Like It" (which is nearly indistinguishable from Twelfth Night really... doing them back to back seems absurd) where I will be playing Amiens. If you don't remember the character, thats OK, I didn't either. Basically, I'll come on in two scenes and sing a song. I do like to sing, so this may not sound like a problem, but you should see the parts my fellow MFAs will be doing. My roommate, for instance, really has a chance to work and grow this semester as he plays Orsino in Twelfth Night and Orlando in As You Like It (albeit the two roles, like the two shows, are nearly indistinguishable). This isn't about ego or beng jealous of those in the limelight (well, its not completely about that). This about feeling like I'm not part of the team, not pulling my weight. Its a baseless insecurity. Its simply about the fact that I have less experience and polished technique and there were no roles that, in the opinion of my instructors, really suited me - things I don't really have control over at this point. So why should I freak out about it?

My old roommate Nick always tells me I need to develop a "screw you" attitude (thats the toned down version), so here's my shot. Screw you, bad situation! Screw you, fates! I must remember my commitment to idealism in despite of the harsh realities of life.If I don't feel like I'm really getting a shot to have good practical experience at becoming a stronger artist this semester, then I'll make my own experiences. I'll work extra hard outside of the official curriculum and take advantage of other opportunities to really stretch myself. There is such an opportunity coming up, and you better believe I'm going to take as much advantage of it as I can. I don't want to make it sound like a sure thing, because its not. And I don't want to say TOO much about it, because even if I get it I'm not at all sure how my friends and family will feel about it. But for a certain select few of you who are in the know, here's a little clue:

You think I'd look good in a wig? I have one in a box.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Disturbing Tale of Disturbingness

So the story goes like this:

I am sleeping, snuggled up comfortably on my inflatable single bed, dreaming of peaceful shores and relaxing breezes. I feel a delightful tickle on the back of my neck, like a cool breeze on a summer's day. I feel refreshed and peaceful. The tickle then moves to the front of my neck, on my chin, and then on to my face. It is at this moment the realization pierces through my sleeping brain that there is something alive and crawling on my face.

You never have seen something go from so inert and inactive to alert and active. You never have seen someone jump up five feet into the air from a prone position. You have never seen someone bolt out of their little room in seconds, the blink of an eye. When the light was turned on, the culprit was found. A very large coakroach sitting innocently on my pillow, looking at me as if to say, "What? Yeah, I crawled on your face. You got a problem with that?" Unfortunately for him, I did. Down the toilet he went, banished into the nether sewer realms for all time.

I didn't get much sleep after that, as you might imagine. I refused to step foot in my room again, so I camped out on the couch, trying not to revisit the sensation of those little tiny feet flitting across my cheek. It was a restless night.

I am proud to say, my friends and loved ones, that I took this as a sign from the heavens that something had to be done with my room. You see, in classic Matt style I had never really finished moving in, and there were still half-empty cardboard boxes thrown haphazardly into the corner. My roommate, who happens to be a licensed exterminator, says that there's nothing roaches love more than cardboard boxes. So the next morning I was up at 7:00 am throwing out boxes, putting things into sealable plastic containers and generally making my room liveable at last. While I'm at it, I've decided to seek out some simple decorations to put on the walls. I'm sick of this barren empty whiteness. So I guess I'm making the best of the situation.

I'm still traumatized for life, though.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Pictures

Check out the production photos from "Good Person of Setzuan" and you'll get an idea of the craziness that has been my life for the last two months. Points for you if you can recognize me in any of the pictures!

Production Photos

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Most Wonderful Day

Yesterday I had a great day! I've been having a very rough couple of weeks where I have been greatly depressed about a great number of things, including my acting ability. I have this recurring nightmare that I actually suck and nobody is brave enough to tell me. Well, I received the perfect confirmation that I am exactly where I'm supposed to be yesterday, when I went to some screening auditions for summer work. It was a ridiculous cattle call style audition, with group after group of would-be actors filing in and trying to impress auditors in only 60 seconds that they are good enough to be considered for professional work. It was even scored on a points system, with those receiving the highest points being passed on to the actual audition for professional companies in March. Out of a possible 84 points, I got 83! Here were some of my comments:

"Excellent."

"You are instantly likeable."

"Easy to follow, clearly spoken."

"Well done - you know what you're doing."

I don't reprint these comments to brag or boast. It's just that I wanted you all to know that this was exactly what I needed to hear. I mean, I was thinking a few weeks ago about dropping out of the program because I sucked so bad and couldn't keep up with my fellow classmates. But now I feel very optimistic about my odds of getting professional summer work, the first step towards establishing something of a career. And that was only part of my wonderful day! The rest is a mystery...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Poetry Time - A. E. Housman

Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after that they groan and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
Oh they're taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.

'Tis a shame to human nature, such a head of hair as his;
In the good old time 'twas hanging for the colour that it is;
Though hanging isn't bad enough and flaying would be fair
For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair.

Oh a deal of pains he's taken and a pretty price he's paid
To hide his poll or dye it of a mentionable shade;
But they've pulled the beggar's hat off for the world to see and stare,
And they're haling him to justice for the colour of his hair.

Now 'tis oakum for his fingers and the treadmill for his feet
And the quarry-gang on Portland in the cold and in the heat,
And between his spells of labour in the time he has to spare
He can curse the God that made him for the colour of his hair.

Monday, October 23, 2006

For Your Information

I got my hair cut today, and I had them chop it all off. I have less than an inch left. I look like a jerk without any hair. I thought it was appropriate.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A Note

I've come to the rather surprising conclusion that I'd rather be the one who is hurt, rather than one who causes the hurt in others. At least then you have somebody else to blame for the pain you feel inside.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Another Picture



Those of you I've talked to a bit have heard that the play I'm currently in here is a bit.... unusual. Here's the only publicity photo I could get my hands on, and even though I only have a very small part they used me in the photos. Yes, thats me on the far right, sneakily stealing some rice from Brian's bowl. The whole cast will be in white face for the show. Should be interesting.

I've done with complaining about this play. Its coming together alright, but there's something wrong when we get called to an all-day rehearsal and never get used once. The director is from Romania and there the actors are getting paid (by the government usually) to be at the theater so they all come whether they are being used or not, but in a school it shouldn't work like that. Oh well, we get this Thursday and Friday off for Fall Break, and I'm looking forward to some good old-fashioned loafing about. Also, an exciting event is happening soon (unconnected to school or theater) which I'm sure all you gamers out there (Ben) are just as giddy about as I am. I'll post more about that after it happens. Hope everybody is doing well!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Long Awaited Picture Post

At last, picture proof of my adventures in South Carolina!

This is a shot of the very first day we all met each other, in the Longstreet Theater, where the department offices are located.

Here's a good shot of the whole group (minus a few), when we went to Frankie's Fun Park to celebrate Actor Jock's birthday. (That's AJ himself sitting on the rail on the left there)

We had a lot of fun last weekend when we went to a Kareoke bar to celebrate Jen's birthday.

Sonny (Brian) and Cher (Jen) sing "I've Got You Babe"

Downey, recently voted by me as the coolest guy on the planet, had a little too much to drink...

...and sang "You Can Call Me Al" as if he was William Shatner...

... and danced with an old woman in a wheelchair...

...and endured the endless shame of an alcoholic gone out of control.

His wife, Liesl, recently voted by me the coolest chick on the planet, sings a song and tries to keep a happy disposition in despite of her drunken husband.

We try some latin dancing...

...and the limbo...

...and some kind of dance with strips of cloth (that's lighting designer Ian bathed in celestial light there)...

...and I attempt to sing "If I Had a Million Dollars," while a very drunk Ben sings loudly and horribly off-key right in my ear.

The four amazing women in our lives - Jen, Beth, Felicia, and Liesl.

And there you have it! A fun time had by all. I'm very busy here with school, but we still find time to party. We finally met our Romanian director today. Still no word on what role's we're playing, but its looking like I'm going to get a really smaaaaaall part. Ah well.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Sample Day

And the work goes on!

Here’s a few tidbits from my day today, which may give you a good sense of the experience I’m having in general. This morning I taught my acting class, which involved watching a couple students perform scenes in which they were to tell us a story, communicating clearly WHO they are, WHERE they are, WHAT they are doing, and WHEN it all takes places, simply by performing logical actions that give us that information. That was interesting. One student kept looking at me to get my reaction during his entire scene, which made me cringe because I KNOW I’ve done that in acting classes and it looks way tacky. After those scenes, I had them do some improvised scenes involving this idea of communicating given circumstances in ways other than speaking. It seemed to go pretty well. Even though my class is pretty quiet and reluctant to get into discussion, they will get up and do whatever I want them to without complaint. They also laugh at all my jokes, which is a big plus. They all gain one letter grade up just for that!

After that it was lunchtime, so I wandered over towards the student center to pick up some food. I checked in at the Longstreet Theater first, which is where our department and faculty offices are and everything, and bumped right into the guy posting the cast list for this semester’s shows. Since I was the first to see it, of course I had to call a bunch of the other MFAs to let them know the list was up. We didn’t expect to see it until next week. Most of us (me included) will be in “The Good Woman of Setzchuan (Chicken),” with the twist that none of us know yet what parts we will be playing. This will be decided after rehearsal begins. (That’s really got to suck for the costume designers!) This was expected – nothing surprising there. But its good to finally know. I guess they finally found our director in Romania, and hopefully she’ll be here in a few weeks to start rehearsal. It turns out she understands English, but won’t speak it. Instead she will be giving us direction in Romanian and her husband will translate. The whole situation just keeps getting better and better.

After lunch, it was time for our classes to begin. First was our voice class which, for some reason, involves a lot of jumping rope at the beginning of each class. My legs have been KILLING me lately, since I’m not used to so much walking and moving and whatnot, and the jump roping has made it really bad. Today when we finished my calves were hurting so bad I thought I was going to cry. Fortunately, one of the MFAs lent me some ICY HOT which really helped. Hopefully all this pain will pay off and by the time I’m done with this program I’ll be in great shape.

We then worked on some vocal stuff with Shakespearean monologues. Its tempting to think of our classes in separate compartments: This one is voice, this one is movement, this one is acting. But really they are all different facets of the same thing, and I learn just as much about acting in voice class as I do in Alexander Technique class. My monologue is from Henry V, and the first time I performed it I was very tense, I had a limited vocal range, and I was forcing myself to feel the emotion of the piece is a very awkward way. Erica, the teacher, got me to relax, support my breath from the right place, have the right posture, and suddenly….. BAM! There was all this emotion, right there. I didn’t have to force anything. I was overwhelmed. It just came out and flowed naturally and I gave Lord Scroop the tongue-lashing of his life. There was color in my face, my vocal range was much broader and more pleasant, and I was convincing. I was, in short, alive and real on stage instead of “acting.” It was just one of many breakthroughs I’m having on a daily basis.

After that we worked with Richard, the head of the acting program, on what he calls “life scenarios.” We take an event or conflict from our life and act them out as naturally as we can. We play ourselves, and cast fellow students as the other people in the incident. Today I was this guy Beth had an awkward romantic encounter with in a tent with her older brother sleeping right next to us. Every time we leaned in to kiss, her brother (played by Michael) would make a noise or move like he was going to get up. Beth said it was eerily like the actually event, which happened some years ago when she was nineteen. The class loved it – it was the first “life scenario” that involved absolutely no dialogue. All of the other ones have been amazing too. We’re learning how to translate the naturalness of improvising these real events into performing a pre-written script, to keep our acting from getting stiff or formal.

You may be thinking, “This is what Matt does at school? This is what he’s paying money to do?” I realize it may seem like a cake walk compared to medical school, but I’m pretty well exhausted with all the work and, most importantly, I’m happy. I’m vibrantly, overwhelmingly happy to be up to my eyeballs in things that I love to do.

Now I’m home, and Actor Jock is making me dinner (we take turns cooking). He’s dating a girl in our program, so I get to be the friendly and sympathetic ear whenever he wants to vent about that. I don’t mind. Tonight a bunch of the actors are getting together to watch a movie, but I’m so sore that I’m thinking a quiet evening in bed with a book may be just what the doctor ordered. I need to take advantage of my free time. In another few weeks, I’ll be adding four to five hours of rehearsal a day to my already demanding schedule. And that, my friends, is when the crap is really going to hit the proverbial fan. I hope all is well with my Utah friends and family!

Friday, September 08, 2006

My New Life

Ok, so you really can't blame me for not posting more often on my blog. For one thing, I'm not sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day with only about two hours worth of work to do, so I don't have the abundant opportunity or the desparate need to fill up time that I once had. For another, its difficult to know what exactly to do with my blog during these turbulent times of change. I never wanted it to become an online journal: "Then I did this, then I did this, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow so I can do this..." I wanted to use it to write about whatever in a semi-artistic format, like personal essays or whatever. Problem is that now that I'm so far away from everybody who reads this, its the easiest and most effective way to keep everybody posted about what I've been up to in my fabulous new life. So, I'll be working on combining these two roles of the blog in future posts. For now, more general stuff about my new life. If you're interested.

We've started to settle into a temporary routine with classes and everthing. It's only temporary because most of our program we're going to be a lot busier than we are now. Once we get into a play, everything will be different. No word on when thats happening yet. The big play of the semester, Brecht's "The Good Woman of Szechuan" or "of Saskatchuan" as we call it, is being directed by a lady from Romania. The auditions were taped and sent to her, only now they aren't exactly sure where she is. Guess she kind of disappeared in Romania somewhere. So casting for that show is being put off, and I really don't know when we're going to know anything more about it. An MFA director held callbacks last night for her final project, a bizarro little play called "On the Verge," and those were frustrating. It seemed entirely unnecessary to keep all 10 graduate actors there for almost four hours when 1-only one or two of us will end in that show, tops, and 2-she's only going to have to have another callback anyway after she finds out who is being cast in Good Woman, which has first pick. We were all pretty frustrated with the flagrant lack of respect for our time, which sounds really snooty and all but honestly something like that would never happen the professional world.

Somebody asked how my roommate and I are getting along (I think that was you, Ben). Well things are going just fine with me and Actor Jock. It's pretty amazing how similar parts of our lives have been. We both went to Ricks for a year before going to the Philippines, we both spoke Cebuano there, and we both developed vericoceles there. Only mine was bad enough to get operated on and removed, and his wasn't. He still has it. At the same time, we are so wildly different in interests (except for theater), temperment, acting styles, worldviews, politics, philosophy, that the other people in our class can't really figure out how we work living together. It's easy really, we just sort of back off and let each other alone when we're at home. It works out well. Today is his birthday, actually, and he apparently decided to celebrate by strolling about the apartment naked after his shower, which was a bit of a shock when I came out to get some breakfast but hey... it IS his birthday, so whatever.

I feel like I have way too much free time to play video games. I mean, I'm taking acting classes so its not like I have a lot of homework or anything. I have a few books to read, some exercises and stretches to work on, and thats about it. One exciting new development at this school is the arrival of two new acting teachers from the University of Washington, one of which will soon become the new acting program director. They teach a fascinating method of movement and acting based on the work of this Japanese guy Suzuki that they mentored with for many years. I'll have to show you guys some of this stuff some time, its wild, but its really helping me in ways I can't quite describe. It's just a whole different approach that we Westerners would never think of. But I love it. But then I love the Japanese. Who doesn't?

I've made good friends with the only MFA actor from the class ahead of us who is still around. He's a bit older than me (the guy at Barnes and Nobles thought he was my dad) so he's very fatherly and protective of the new students, and he's really helped show me around and adjust here. We went and saw Little Miss Sunshine, which I HIGHLY recommend to all, and the Illusionist, which I do NOT recommend. I've read some good reviews for it, which totally baffles me because the whole thing seemed sloppy and mediocre to me. Good actors acting badly. Poor script. You get the picture.

Ok, well thats enough for now. Until next time, keep it real folks. Oh, be sure to check the pictures from the trip out here that I posted a few scrolls down. I have more, but these are some of the most interesting, and you can see my new roommate, Actor Jock.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

First Day of Classes

Holy cow!

That's all I can say so far. My time here has been a blur, but at the same time I feel like I've been living in Columbia, South Carolina for AGES. Still don't know my way around though, but at least I can get to all the buildings on campus I have anything to do with.

Most of the last week was filled with training meeting after orientation meeting after meet-and-greet session, one right after the other. We met people five hundred thousand times, which is great because I need that in order to actually remember names and stuff. Yesterday there was a little showcase, where all of us first year MFA actors presented our audition monologues to the entire department faculty. There are ten of us in the class, and I have been amazed and humbled by the level of talent that each one of them exhibited in their monologues. I don't know if I'll be able to keep up! I don't know if I can say that I am the worst actor in the group, since thats really difficult to judge, but I'm DEFINITELY the least trained, polished, and professional actor in the bunch. But I suppose that was completely to be expected. Most of them are older and have had a heck of a lot more experience and training. It gives me so much to learn from. I learned more about acting before classes even STARTED than I did in all my time at BYU. OK, so thats a bit of an exageration, but right now it feels like it.

Today was the official first day of classes, and it began with Theater 170, Fundamentals of Acting which I will actually be TEACHING to 18 unfortunate freshman. They are unfortunate not only because they have me as a teacher (who will be learning just as much from these exercises as they will) but also because we have been assigned an obscure, distant, difficult to locate room to hold class in. They were none too thrilled about that, but otherwise they seem ready to go. I have to take attendance, and give them grades, and feedback, and somehow communicate to them what an actor does and, most importantly, why on earth theater or art is important at all in their lives, and I feel a little out of my depth in doing so. But I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Which goes for all my other classes too. We just got out of our core acting class, and my head is spinning. They are going to be challenging. They are going to be physically and intellectually demanding. It's not like GRADES are an issue in acting courses, so I'm not worried about failing. I'm worried about achieving a certain level of proficiency in a very detailed, complicated, and tricky craft. I submit that my graduate training here is going to be as difficult, as time-consuming, as rigorous as ANY other kind of graduate work you can name. So if you thought I was becoming an actor because I'm lazy or because I don't like to work.... well, you're right. I AM lazy and I DON'T like to work, but when it comes to this kind of work, I can't wait to get started and thats exactly why I'm here. I'd rather focus my energy and effort on something that makes me happy and fulfilled than on something that makes me miserable.

My instructors here are talented, excited, and professional. My classmates are amazing, supportive, and inspiring. The weather is hot, humid, and sweaty. Take in the whole picture, and I feel like this is all some kind of crazy dream. My mind is all chaotic and jumbled right now. If I missed anything any of you want to know more about, just send me an e-mail or write a question in the comments.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Brief Update

Just a quick note to let you know the conclusion to my epic journey. I'll write a longer blog later when the dust clears some more. We arrived in Columbia on Sunday night and its been a crazy whirlwind of excitement ever since! My new roommate, we'll call him Jock Actor, or J.A., (since using Blog Names is all the rage now days), seems like somebody I can live with and laugh with, and our new apartment is, surprisingly, very nice considering we didn't have a clue what we were getting when we signed up for it. Somebody let us borrow a TV, somebody else gave us some air mattresses for a while, and we were able to bum a couch from the department. Things are coming together!

I've met everybody in my program now, and they are all absolutely amazing. I've been amazed at how quickly we've been forming bonds. Almost instantaneously, we've become a family in just a few days. We all laugh at each other's jokes and enjoy each other's company. Working with these people for a few years is going to be amazing. The school is really old. The building with the department offices was formerly the fitness center (the scene shop is above where the pool used to be), and way before that the building was a medical center during the civil war (no joke!). The downstairs green room was once the morgue, and there are catacombs beneath the whole structure where confederate soldiers were buried. The campus has lots of statues of Civil War heroes, including one very large one that could give BYU's naked Indian a run for his money: a mostly naked man riding an extremely masculine horse.

It's quite a trip, and I'm enjoying myself immensely. I keep feeling like some kind of mistake was made and I'm not really supposed to be here enjoying this experience, but I'm going to take it for all its worth. I'll update again soon.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Friday, August 11, 2006

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Friday, July 28, 2006

Last Day at Work

Today is my last day at work – after this, the countdown to my departure begins in earnest. I'll spend most of next week packing, finalizing travel plans, making sure I have a place to live in South Carolina, spending time with friends, freaking out, and playing computer games. Then, the week after that is when it all goes down. A four day cross-country drive followed by weeks and weeks of adjustment to a new life.

This is so different than what I've grown used to over the last year and a half. My life as an out-of-college full-time employee has been anything but busy or unpredictable. Every single day has followed the same schedule, week after week of basically the same thing.

I've worked at this job for nine months. Ironic, isn't it. It's been like my own little gestation period and now I'm ready to be born. I'll squeeze out of this cubicle womb and face the world, covered from head to toe in amniotic fluid.... wait, I guess I'm taking the metaphor a little too far there. The point is, this is my last day at work and the beginning of the first day of the rest of my life. And I'm going to be totally on my own. It's time to cut the umbilical cord.

So I guess I need to eulogize about the end of my career here at this quaint little office. I've become such a lazy worker lately that I was sure my supervisors hated me and couldn't wait to be rid of me. Well, turns out they thought I was moving to Chicago (where the corporate offices are) and wanted to offer me a job there! And they took me out to lunch on Tuesday, and are ordering pizza today in honor of my departure. People like me, gosh dang it, and I just can't seem to figure that one out.

I think I'll look back fondly on my time as a taxonomist, but not so fondly that I'll ever want to return to it. I mean, it was a big word, and fun to say, but it's not really me. I made some good friends here, had some good times, made a bit of cash (which somehow has already been spent) and learned some valuable skills. Still, ultimately its not for me. I don't want the most crucial decisions of my day to be whether “air conditioning” is a “feature” or an “amenity.” I want to grasp life with both hands, wave it above my head wildly, and then smear it all over my chest in masculine frenzy. Really, is that so much to ask?

Monday, July 24, 2006

my time is at hand...

Eventually there comes a day where you stop waiting for inspiration to hit and just write something, anything, to put on your blog. Of course, having a slow-paced job helps quite a bit, but even that has not been enough to get me blogging lately. I did write something last week about the new computer game I've been playing, but it was really nerdy and I thought that we've had enough of my nerdity (its a word if I say it is) for one month.

I've not been up to much in the last ten days. My life is very simple and surreal at the moment. I perform regularly in my play at the local community theater, spend the days sitting here at this desk in this office, go to the gym on occasion, relax at home, and generally avoid thinking too much about all the stuff I have to do soon. These activities are accompanied by the constant pressure to stay out of the insufferable heat we've been subjected lately. Its the kind of heat that leaves you a lifeless, sweaty husk. Seriously, I don't think I'm meant for warm climates. Yet another reason why the upcoming move to South Carolina seems so ironic.

I'm in a period of transition, and its difficult to explain what it is like. It's happened to me a few times before, and so it feels kind of familiar, in a way, but no less scary. Everything is up in the air and I don't know where its going to come down, and there's this tingly feeling in the pit of my stomach at the thought that just a few weeks from now my life will be completely different in every way. With the possible exception of leaving the country to live in the Philippines for two years, I've never embarked on a change quite so dramatic and complete as the one now rapidly approaching.

I'm leaving in two weeks and three days. It hardly seems real. What will my life be like there? Will I be happy? Will I have friends? Will I still be me, or will I change in a new environment? Will I fit in? There's honestly no way of knowing until I get there.

Shakespeare was a genius. I know that was random, but bear with me. I've thought a lot about one of his famous lines lately, and I think represents an important reality for us human beings. It's in our nature to, as Hamlet says, “rather bear those ills we have than fly to others we know not of.” Six months ago I was excited and ready for a change, and I think that I still am. But the fear of the unknown future creeps in and you start thinking.... you know, this isn't so bad. My life's not so bad here. Yeah, I hate my job, but its a reliable source of income for now, and I have lots of friends, and people who I can't imagine living without, and maybe I'd be better off staying here.

This line of thinking is safe and comfortable, and it is bad. It is anathema to personal growth and development. It's the kind of thinking that keeps people stuck in crappy jobs in crappy towns feeling miserable about their lives because they never had the courage to strike out into the darkness and make something better. It's the thinking of the servant who would bury his talent to keep it safe rather than working and risking to improve his lot. It is stagnancy. And I for one would rather try and fail than sit around wondering my whole life. That has been the driving rhetoric for my whole new approach to life. I no longer pretend to have ultimate answers, or to express confidence in things which I cannot know for sure. I only know that I must go where my heart directs me, no matter how terrifying, and do my best to be happy. I'd rather be free and wrong than in chains. But I wax metaphorical...

One phase of my life is over forever, and another opens. Such is the way of things. I'll miss you all. But I have to go. It's my time.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Announcing....

I thought I'd take a moment to shamelessly plug the play I'm going to be in that opens this weekend. You absolutely must come to see it, not just because I'm in it (though that should be reason enough for most of you!) but because, for the first time in a while, I'm doing a play that I can be reasonably certain every single person on this planet can enjoy.

It's called “You Can't Take It With You” and its playing at the Hale Center Theater in Orem. You can go to their website and see the performance schedule and buy tickets. I play a young successful businessman named Tony Kirby, Jr. who has recently become Vice-President of his company (his father is the President, can you say nepotism?) but hates the stuffy corporate world and longs to break free (didn't take too much acting there.) I've fallen in love with my secretary, Ms. Alice Sycamore, a very nice and normal young lady who happens to come from a family of questionable sanity. I kind of like the family (despite the wackiness of the parents, grandfather, sister and brother-in-law, maid, maid's boyfriend, random man who lives with them, and very hairy Russian ballet teacher who is constantly at their house), so I propose to her despite all that. When my straight-laced and upper class parents meet the zany and carefree Sycamores, hilarity is certain to ensue!

There, now stop asking me what its about. I'm not going to explain it again. Just get your freaking tickets and come and enjoy yourselves. Maybe you'll remember that, no matter how fun movies are, nothing can quite replace the magic of live theater. Or maybe you can just admire how great my butt looks in the suits I wear (this is not my opinion, but that of many of the ladies associated with the production who decided to share this information with me.)

You have until August 9th to see me in the show, after which I will be heading to South Carolina and the part of Tony will be played by an as-yet un-named replacement. So you better hurry!

Friday, July 07, 2006

I like Superman, but I love Clark Kent...

I like Superman, but I love Clark Kent.
Though, despite the elaborate disguise
Consisting of a single pair of bent,
Simple specs, they're not two different guys
But only one, still I said what I meant:
I like Superman, but I love Clark Kent.

I like Superman, but I love Clark Kent
I guess because one of them's more like me
And does not always get what he wants
And struggles with our vulnerability.
And does not by his perfection command
The adoration of every woman and man
But sits in the back, with nothing to say
Just hoping that Lois Lane looks his way.

She doesn't - her eyes are glued to the sky.

Wake up, Lois! Can't you see the guy
Waiting to love you with all of his might?
He may not leap buildings, he may not fly,
He may not see through you with x-ray eyes,
He might need YOUR help, if that's alright,
From time to time, when his mortal heart cries.

He combs his hair neatly and fights through the crowd,
Decides what to say, and rehearses out loud,
He summons his courage and paces the floor
And with shaking hands knocks on her door.

But she's not even there. And thats what I meant
When I said:
I like Superman, but I love Clark Kent.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Let America Be America Again - Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Ambivalent Nerd

Though the infrequency of my blogging might suggest otherwise, I lead a quite full life full of interesting events that would, in theory, make great anecdotal posts. Unfortunately, most of these stories (such as the one from last weekend where I ended up with an ice pack on my groin – don't ask) are not exactly fit for the public at large, because they reveal aspects of my personal life I would prefer to keep hidden from those who still somehow have a good opinion of me or are just flat out too embarrassing.

Accordingly, there are a number of things that I do and enjoy every day that I never talk about my blog. It's time to come clean and confess everything. I'm sorry if this disappoints anybody, and I'll understand if, after hearing my big secret, you'll never want to talk to me again.

I am a nerd. A comic-book loving, D&D playing, fantasy-books reading nerd. Yes, I play Dungeons and Dragons. I am more recently known to my fellow D&Ders as Murphy McWatt, a level 7 human fighter, and to others as Davin Lightbringer, a level 11 paladin, and to some with a fine sense of nostalgia as Froderick von Brinsbane, a bard whose level didn't matter because he was only around for comic relief (and take my word for it, he was HILARIOUS). Yes, I own the D&D manuals and a set of dice. I confessed this once to a friend and he reacted as if I had just told him I was secretly a Muslim extremist. Seriously, it was like coming out of the closet or something. Because when you tell people you like stuff like that, the first thing they associate you with is those people who walk around campus wearing cloaks and chainmail and who are always practicing their sword fighting in the grassy areas. Thats why I keep my nerdy materials hidden carefully away in case anybody should get the wrong idea.

And thats what keeps me from being a completely inexcusable nerd, I think. I'm ambivalent about my nerdiness; I have anxieties about it. I'm aware of the silliness of it. For example, as a student of art and literature, I find it inexcusable the amount of time I've spent reading Lord of the Rings-rip-offs like “The Wheel of Time” series instead of getting to those great works I've yet to read like “War and Peace” and “Ulysses.” But at least I don't make those fantasy books the center of my life like SOME people I know of. Those people make me nervous.

For example, let me relate the story of when I went to the back room of one of those game stores in the mall (you know, the area where the nerds hang out all day and play Magic: the Gathering and argue about the rules) in order to buy my first set of dice. I was dressed up in my best metrosexual outfit, to try and distinguish myself from the hygienically challenged guys milling about back there. I was playing it super cool, really confident as if buying twenty-sided dice was the fashion for guys my age now days. Problem was, I wasn't very happy with the selection they had. I mean, all the dice were in ugly colors or just looked crappy like they were going to fall apart. I demand quality from everything in my life, even my role-playing dice. So I was taking my time browsing through my options when the guy behind the counter tries to strike up a conversation with me.

“Getting some dice?”

I don't look at him. “Yeah.”

“Looking for anything in particular?”

“Not really. Just browsing to make sure I find something I'm happy with.”

“Yeah,” he said, “I'm just like you. I like to find just the right set of dice to fit my character. It's important, I think.”

I freaked out. I wanted to run away shouting, I'm NOTHING like you! But I swallowed my pride and bought a set of dice which, to this day I think is horribly sub par. Another time, months and months later, I ended up back there and found myself arguing about D&D rules with this girl until I realized where I was and what I was doing and had a moment of internal horror. The strength of my reaction on these two occasions surprised me. Why was I so desperate not to be associated with these guys? I mean, personal hygiene and social skills aside, they really aren't all that different than me. We like a lot of the same things, if to a different extent. I mean, they are just people. What's the problem?

All this is really sort of a set-up to talk about the thing that has dominated my life for the past month. It's a insidiously addictive online game called World of Warcraft. Many of my friends have blogged about that game recently, most notably Luke and Ben, but I just had to add in my two cents. Never before have I encountered something that I simultaneously love and hate with such passion. The game is beautifully designed (if somewhat in a way calculated to make you spend hours and hours at a time on it), has gorgeous graphics and, when played with a group of your guy friends (me, Ben, Luke, Scott, and Rich took on a group of religious zealots earlier this week) forcing you to work together as a team in order to overcome obstacles, it can be more fun than any computer game has any right to be.

Why do I hate it then? World of Warcraft has a culture and a society all of its own, which is populated solely by thousands and thousands of those very same geeks who hang around in the back section of gaming stores, whose average age (both literally and mentally) is 12 and who are all, with few exceptions, male. And we're talking violence-loving, tragically insecure, excessively competitive, extremely homophobic male. And what kind of society is created from the combination of such individuals? Ever read “Lord of the Flies?” Me neither (I was reading “The Wheel of Time,” remember). But I have a suspicion its something like that. Its a culture based entirely on juvenile oneupmanship, on calling people names and proving you are the best because your little digital person has better digital armor than somebody elses. Its level-based hierarchy is just like in those families of all boys where the oldest picks on the next oldest and he turns and picks on the next oldest and so on and so forth until everybody is picking on everybody to try and make themselves feel better about having been picked on.

And, surprisingly enough, thats not something I want to be a part of. The game kind of requires you to interact with other players a lot, and thats not pleasant when 90% of them are incapable of normal communication. That's another pet peeve: WoW players have devised a fascinating dialect all of their own, full of shorthands and acronyms and slang belonging solely to the world of the game. Some are standard Internet lingo that can be useful when used in small doses (i.e., BRB for “be right back” or OMW for “on my way” or even LOL for “laugh out loud” as long as its not used too much). Some are simply lazy and have the effect of making anything you say look stupid (i.e., “u” and “ur” instead of “you” and “your,” childish slang like “pwned!” and ANY word with numbers replacing letters “n00b”).

So why don't I just quit? Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? I don't like the culture and the community in the game, which is a huge part of the game, so why don't I just stop? I'll tell you why: I CAN'T – I LOVE IT SO MUCH. The agony of defeat! The thrill of victory! The nice reward after a long hard quest! The gorgeous graphics! And most of all, the fun of inhabiting this bittersweet, fascinating world with some of the best buddies a guy could ask for. When it comes right down to it, the game is bigger than the losers who play it. It's worth putting up with them for.

I mean, I'm sure they are good people who, outside of the game, might actually not be caustic and irritating. But the sooner they realize that this is just a game and stop making fun of my equipment the better off we will all be!

So its a love/hate relationship. I mean, I love it, but I hate that I love it, and I love that I hate it. I love that I hate it even though I love it, or maybe I hate that I can't decide whether to love it or hate it. You get the idea.

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's this sweet sword I, Andelm the level 35 Night Elf Warror, have just got to get my hands on.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The X-Men: Deconstructing the Other

I am, as has been brought to my attention on several occasions, something of a “movie snob.” This means I regularly turn up my nose at mainstream Hollywood flicks in favor of more obscure, antiquated, or pretentious artistic films like “The Lion in Winter,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Henry V,” etc. etc. However, I have tried to reassure my critics on this point that, despite the prevailing opinion to the contrary, I do on occasion enjoy a good big-budget movie along with the rest of the masses. This weekend, in fact, I went to the movie theater in the mall (the temple wherein America worships high-priced and flashy banality) to watch “X-Men 3: The Last Stand,” a major summer motion picture, albeit the heyday of its popularity was SO three weeks ago. And I rather enjoyed it, just as I enjoyed its two predecessors.

If you can lower your artistic expectations and have a healthy ability to suspend your disbelief about the science of the whole thing, the story of the X-Men is really great. Its an exploration of how we deal with other people who are different from us, which, basically, is what the whole of human history is about. In previous films in the series, I left thinking about minorities and our history of treating them poorly, from marginalization to outright genocide. In addition to that, this most recent film made think about xenophobia, and how we construct notions of the Other. I've ranted on my blog before about the danger that comes from an ideology that divides humanity into categories of “us” and “them,” and the X-Men movie really plays with this idea.

In the first place, we see, as we have in the previous installments, the xenophobia of the humans against the mutants. This minority is demonized and dehumanized until they are viewed as things, as monsters, and not people. The politician in the first movie who was pushing for the Mutant Registration Act (I can't remember his name) was the spokesman for this kind of rhetoric. He says, “Are you in favor of registering firearms? Well, some of these so-called “children” have more destructive capability than any hand gun.” The result is the creation, a construct, in the minds of the mainstream of an inhuman “Other.” Once this construct takes hold, all kinds of intolerant and destructive behavior becomes easy to rationalize. After all, its not like they are people, like us. While fictional, this story is reminiscent of the times in history where this demonization of a group of people as the Other has led to horrific ends. The treatment of the Jews under the Nazi regime is a notorious and tragic example.

But this movie, specifically, also showed how easy it is for members of a persecuted and demonized minority to respond by dehumanizing their oppressors. Instead of working to undermine and destroy the pernicious human/mutant dichotomy, they seek merely to reverse it. Magneto and his ilk demonize humans (calling them filth, or unclean, or less advanced) until they become the Other in much the same way mutants are for some humans. By doing so, they serve only to reinforce the negative stereotypes that have been placed upon them, causing the humans to act with even more hysteria and intolerance. Magneto cannot even continue association with one of his former mutant henchmen after they accidentally receive the mutant “cure,” saying that now they have become “one of them.” The operative word here being them. Those people. The Other.

Only the X-Men see the Buddhistic truth that these distinctions of us and them are illusions and that, on the most fundamental levels, we are all the same. Acts of ruthless violence, prejudice, and intolerance become close to impossible when we recognize this simple fact: that we are all One. The X-Men use their powers to protect people, whether mutant or human. They work consistently and passionately to secure equal rights for mutants, but they do not give in to acts of bitterness or revenge. They extend the open tolerance to others that they have not received. This is, I think, a constructive model for any minority group, particularly those I happen to belong to, that is seeking to establish its own legitimacy and secure equal rights. We cannot respond to persecution in kind; we must turn the other cheek. We must recognize the humanity and equality of those who do not recognize ours. It's not easy; many of the X-Men are tempted by Magneto's passionate andvengeful ideology. But in the end, Charles Xavier will always be the celebrated, compassionate visionary, while Magneto, with his obsession of power and hierarchy, will be hated as the meglomaniac idealogue.This all may be really obvious analysis to you, but I think its worth spelling out. No lesson could be more appropriate for our times. We live in an age of fear - fear of the Other. The X-Men invite us to protect ourselves from extremists while also respecting the humanity of all man-kind. Too many, I fear, enjoy the movie's action sequences and special effects (which were definitely fun) and don't spend too much time thinking about the premise underneath. I think we all could do with a little self-evaluation to see where and how we have employed the false notion of the Other in our ideology, in our politics, in our religion, and in our day-to-day interactions. We could be reminded of the danger of extremism and hate-mongering, of xenophobia and stereotyping. We all need to be reminded (now, tomorrow, forever) that true and lasting peace is impossible until we exchange the lie of the Other for the truth of the One (not Neo).

But, hey, it was just a movie.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Hamlet Pictures, Part 2

I was extraordinarily fortunate that, by a strange twist of fate, I was able to do Hamlet again this past semester. This was followed by being fortunate enough to continue on to be in our spring Shakespeare show: Greatest Hits. Thanks to Sam, our resident cross-dresser and MVA ("Most Valuable Actor"), I now have pictures to prove all this.

HAMLET, WINTER 2006


SHAKESPEARE'S GREATEST HITS, SPRING 2006