Archives For October 2012

Autumn Run

October 29, 2012 — Leave a comment

It’s “Reading Week”, which means I’m off class all this week. And it’s pretty sweet. It’s a time to get caught up on assignments, review what’s been studied, and prepare for the final four weeks of class. That’s right. I’ll be more or less done with this semester on November 30th.

(There’s a huge paper that I have to do that’s worth 70% of my grade for this Research class, and we haven’t been given any information about it yet, but it’s not due until December 4th or something like that. So I’m not sweating it right now.)

And that’s not even including the stuff I have saved on my computer…

Today I pored through all my notes and readings for the Movement class, trying to make heads or tails of it. It’s all that dance theory stuff I complained about earlier, so I won’t bother repeating myself, since all I seem to be doing lately is fret about that class. We don’t meet again until November 12th, so I have a nice long break from having to swoop around and write my name in the air.

After doing that all day I decided I needed to get out of the apartment a bit and stretch my legs. I’m finally getting over this cold I had, so I actually tried to run for a bit. My lungs weren’t really interested in doing that for very long, but it’s more than I’ve done lately. I’m hoping I keep up with it and don’t get too bogged down with work in November. (Exercise relieves stress, kids!)

We’re deep into fall here, although most people would say that it’s actually winter that has settled in. The sky is overcast a good amount of the time, and it rains a lot, and….wait…that’s kind of like what fall was like. And summer was pretty wet as well. Okay, so it’s still wet and overcast all the time, but now the temperature has gone down, too!

Where during the summer it was usually in the high 60s and low 70s, and fall meant temps in the 50s, winter means low 40s/high 30s. And that seems to be the extent of it. I know it’ll get colder, but nothing like we have in Illinois. Snow is fairly non-existent.¬†The leaves are turning, but not in that dramatic all-at-once brilliance you have back home. The leaves reluctantly change to a dull brown or yellow, and take their time falling onto the ground. We moved the clocks back yesterday, so it was getting pretty dark outside when I went for that sort-of-run around 4:30.

My suburban-Dublin neighborhood, but here it feels like it’s the middle of the country.

Because I’m off this week, and because I’ve lived very frugally during October, I’m going to treat myself with a little excursion to the northern part of Ireland. I’ll be back soon with a report from the borderlands between the Republic of Ireland, where I live, and Northern Ireland, which is a separate country still part of the United Kingdom.

When I Grow Up

October 24, 2012 — 1 Comment

When I was a kid, probably 10 or 11 years old, I started “production” on a film called The Search for Han Solo. It was adapted from the Marvel Star Wars comics my friend Scott and I read obsessively, and I typed up the script (or at least the first 10 pages or so) on an electric Smith-Corona typewriter. Written and Directed by Brian Fauth, it said on the front cover (along with an awesome drawing of the Millenium Falcon!) It took place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I imagine I worked on it sometime during my 5th grade year, trying to keep my mind busy while we waited for Jedi to come out the following May.

We designed costumes, cast our friends in the principal roles (I was Luke, Scott was Vader, Melody was Leia), and even held an initial rehearsal or two in my basement. Then we gave it up because A) we didn’t have a camera and B) we weren’t that motivated.*

(That was also the year we got a VCR, I think, so any thought of making a film was probably squashed by the delight in being able to watch The Wrath of Khan over and over again whenever we wanted.)

My childhood was spent staring up at movie posters of E.T., Raiders, The Empire Strikes Back, etc. Typical Generation-X cultural upbringing, but I know I paid more attention to the idea of “the director” than most. Behind-the-scenes documentaries introduced me to the idea that “Spielberg” was the person behind Jaws, Close Encounters, and getting Gertie to scream.

When I was in college I tended to focus more on studying classic film than I did my official “classes.” I don’t know if that’s because I was a bad student, or my mind was truly pulling me in a different direction. I could spend hours and hours learning about Hitchcock, Hawks, and Truffaut, but getting me to attend my science gen-eds regularly was another story. (Yes, kids, Mr. Fauth sometimes skipped class. It happens.) At one point I announced to my parents my intention to quit school and start learning how to be a film director, but like my previous attempt at being a filmmaker, it fizzled pretty quickly. The most I could show for it was a bunch of bad shorts made with my friends, with title like “Pete Gets Big!” and “Springtime for Butcher.” (One involved my dog Pete growing suddenly huge and destroying the town, while the other was a loving tease at a friend of mine.)

There was a point of course, where I realized that I was never going to start making real films of my own. Strangely, it happened around the time I got a job working on an actual Hollywood film that was being made in Illinois. I had a job as a stand-in for two weeks, and it was awesome, but I was also in the middle of starting a Masters degree in teaching.  At one point I was offered a chance to head out to Los Angeles to continue the stand-in work once they moved the shoot to sound stages to film the interior shots. And I said no.

Part of it could have been the simple practicality of it. Where would I live, how could I afford living out there, blah blah blah. Maybe I didn’t think someone like me, a small town Midwestern kid, would make it out in Hollywood. (That whole Lutheran “I’m nobody special” thing we tend to have.)

Oddly enough, I look back now and I realize how I was strangely motivated to get my education classes completed. I never really found them interesting or valuable, but I was actually working hard to get them done. Earlier that year I had started substitute teaching in Sandwich, my hometown, and I kind of liked it. I liked it a lot. I was good at it. Whatever it was that I was doing, kids were responding to it, positively.

That was 1996. By January of the following year, I had a job directing a musical at Sandwich High School. My first paid theatre gig. Directed by Brian Fauth. That spring I taught fifth grade for a couple of months at my former elementary school, and that was it.  The rest, as they say, is history. I finished up my degree in teaching a year later and got a job teaching in Oswego.

1999. The Wizard of Oz, with Leslie as Dorothy and my stage manager Heidi.

So after 30-odd shows with Sandwich, Limelight, and a couple of junior highs, I find myself in Dublin, Ireland working on another graduate degree, this time in directing theatre. And the classes are okay, but it’s a strange mix of “Hmm, that’s interesting” and “Hmm, I already knew that.” And I’m very rusty at writing papers. We’ve only a month left and I still don’t have any idea how I’m doing in class.¬†I find myself easily distracted by classic film again. I get itchy to jump on a train and go somewhere, but the budget won’t permit that right now. We have a week off from class next week, so that’s a relief. A chance to clear the head and figure out the next steps in my life.

At this point in my life, I know I’m never going to be that big-time film director I dreamed about becoming in my younger years. I probably won’t become a famous Broadway director, either. And that’s okay, to be perfectly honest. The nice thing about getting a little older is that you get a sense of clarity about where you’re life’s at, and where it’s going, and what you want from it. You want to be doing something worthwhile, and if I can continue to be a good teacher, and maybe get a job running my own drama program again**,¬†then that’s all I really ask out of life.

*Seriously, hats off to these guys for making a shot-by-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark when they were kids. If only I had their stamina and patience.

**Preferably where my full-time job also involves running a drama program, since trying to run the last one while also teaching full-time tended to make me a bit crazy and exhausted.

The Fourth T

October 19, 2012 — Leave a comment

If you look up at the tagline of this blog, there is a fourth T that has gone largely unused since I started this thing. Right now I’m obviously focusing on the Theatre and Travel side of my life, with occasional mentions of the Teaching thing. But Tech hasn’t been mentioned much. If you had me as a teacher over the past few years, you’ll know that it’s a topic that I’m quite passionate about. If this site continues after I return home from my travels and my studies, then I imagine I’ll focus much more on tech-in-education.

One of my major areas of focus this past school year was on BYOT, or Bring Your Own Tech. It all started shortly after Christmas, when a lot of my students came back after the break eager to use their new Kindles, Nooks, iPads, etc. We enjoyed a brief period where the kids were allowed to bring their own devices to school, but the official word from administration was NO. Leave them at home. Too much liability, too many questions about bandwidth usage, too much to discuss and decide before just opening the floodgates and allowing kids to bring in their own stuff.

We spent most of the second semester campaigning to administrators and school board members about the viability of allowing kids to bring in their own tech, but the school year ended with no clear victory for our cause. It was a bit heartbreaking for me, because I was continually blown away by the articulate and effective arguments my students put forth. They made their case, and they made it well, but we had too many nervous administrators who weren’t sure how to solve the potential hazards of the issue.

Since I’m on leave for this school year, I haven’t heard anything about my district making final decisions about the issue, but I was very excited to hear that our neighboring district is starting to allow their students to bring in their own devices. (You can read the article here.) Now THIS is a step in the right direction, and it is my sincere hope that my own district is in the process of starting this practice as well.

Because for me, it’s a no-brainer. Let ’em bring their own stuff to school. Yes, not everyone has their own digital reader, or smartphone, or tablet. We can’t create a digital divide in our classrooms. I get it. But instead of a blanket NO response to this question, we should instead be focused on how to solve the potential problems, and how to make these devices a central part of student learning. If we don’t, we run the risk of creating a larger divide between those that “get it” and those that don’t.

The kids “get it.” This is second nature to them, and if educators and administrators just say no because they can’t figure out how to incorporate a smartphone or a tablet into daily learning, then we don’t deserve to be called educators. We’re just dinosaurs, and it’s just going to add to the gulf between older educators and younger students.

Culture Night

October 18, 2012 — 5 Comments

I have a few stories to tell from the first three months of living here, so I thought I’d spend some time catching everyone up on what I’ve been doing over here OTHER than going to class and studying theatre (almost) non-stop.

Last month Dublin held their annual Culture Night. Once a year on a Friday night in September the great cultural institutions of Dublin keep their doors open late into the evening and allow the public to wander in and out, all for free. This ranges from the museums and libraries to other, more restricted places like private clubs that wouldn’t normally allow the average man on the street to pass through their doors.

I had been given an assignment by one of my professors to go view a particular painting at Dublin’s National Gallery, so with my friend Elisa in tow, we spent a pleasant September evening wandering in and out of some of Dublin’s more “cultured” establishments.

This is a painting by Caravaggio called The Taking of Christ. It was painted sometime around 1602, and thought lost for hundreds of years before it was found in a Dublin Jesuit’s hall. Professor McGuinness said I should study the use of light, to help with coming up with ideas for set design and lighting for my conceptual Merchant of Venice assignment. But what I really found interesting was a painting by a guy named Lyonel Feininger. This gave me all sorts of ideas about how I wanted to deisgn my (imaginary) set.

Umpferstedt III by Lyonel Feininger

After the National Gallery we wandered into the Alliance Francaise, or Dublin’s French Club, more or less. They had stacks of Post-It notes everywhere and invited people to design mosaics on their walls. Lots of kids there having fun.

Post-It mosaics at the Alliance Francaise

Then it was on to the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. Basically a fancy club where Dublin doctors go to be fancy and…I dunno…talk about heart transplants?

String Quartet! Fancy!

Fancy Books in Fancy Bookshelves

Hmmm, I think after that we wandered into the National Library, which was easily one of my favorite spots.

The Reading Room in Dublin’s National Library

Sweet-looking marble banister from the National Library

Studying The Merchant of Venice with Haroosh

That’s Haroosh in the above photo, by the way. He came with me to Dublin. More about him another time.

After the library we met up with another friend named Ken and decided to wait in the long line for the Freemason’s Club.

Why such a long line for one particular place? Well, the Freemason’s Club is one of those ultra-exclusive places you never get to see on ordinary days. There’s a long history associated with the Freemasons, and many people have all sorts of crazy theories about how they secretly control all the governments of the world. ¬†Of course there’s a Simpsons episode about it.

Who keeps the metric system down? WE DO! WE DO!

The actual Freemasons Hall in Dublin is a crazy mish-mash of different rooms all with their own theme. One is a “Knights Templar” theme; another has an Egyptian theme. It’s kind of like going to that part of Epcot Center where all the different countries sit around a lagoon. You just wander from one strange, slightly kitschy place to the next. The main hall feels like a¬†parliamentary¬†hall where nothing important ever gets voted on.

The Mighty Throne of …. Something.

They can’t be that secretive if they’re on Facebook.

Dejected after No Secrets Were Discovered.

Overall, the Freemasons’ Hall was a big letdown. Just some fancy rooms where a bunch of dudes hang out and probably avoid going home to their families. Anyone can join for an annual membership fee of only 125 Euros… as long as you’re a man. No women allowed. Ugh. No thanks, Freemasons. I need more ladies in my life, not less!

By the way: their website is HILARIOUS in its awful, awful design. Check it out.

My first 5th grade class. The Millenium Class.

Well, I had hoped to have a great Viking-themed post written last week, but some unexpected events delayed that plan. Hopefully I’ll have something ready for you in another week or so, after I finish getting caught up on my classwork. Why do I need to be caught up, you ask? Well, as some of you may or may not know, I was actually back in Illinois for a week. Here’s why…

On Tuesday the 2nd of October I got an email from my mom about my great-Uncle Fred. He had suffered a massive stroke. It didn’t look good.

I spent the next day or so half-listening in class, as I thought about Fred, and home, and some other events that were happening back in suburban Illinois. There was a wedding I had hoped to attend, and it just killed me to miss it due to me being over here for a year. After looking at ticket prices, and finding one incredibly cheap, I decided to come home for a few days. I could afford to miss a week of school, and with everything that was going on, I felt it important enough to return home for a bit.

I was able to visit Fred one final time, although whether or not he knew I was there is tough to say for certain. Fred is a guy that I had an enormous amount of respect for, and he was always a favorite of mine from that side of the family. Fred served as a navigator on a C-47 during World War II and I always enjoyed talking to him about his time in the service. Last December we celebrated his 90th birthday.

Fred and the C-47 model everyone mistakenly thinks I gave him.

Mike and Liz were in my very first 5th grade class. Liz I had known already, as she was in my 4th grade class the year previous. Mike was new that year. By the end of the year I was in the process of starting up a new theatre program for the Oswegoland Park District, and both Liz and Mike were a part of that program in its first year. (Still are, as a matter of fact.)

Liz as Sarah from our 2003 production of The Last Dance, my first full-length original play for Limelight.

Eight years later, we were in the process of producing a new play called Heroes and Villains. It was the third and final part of a trilogy of shows I had written. Mike and Liz were in all three. This one was about growing up and moving on, and it was the last play I did with that original company of players I worked with year after year, show after show. It was time to start fresh, and I thought it was time for them to start doing other things as well.

Mike and Liz started dating that summer. During rehearsals of my last show with Limelight, they visited me to announce that they were getting married. And they had a request: would I write something original to read at the ceremony?

Mike visiting my classroom for a college assignment.

When I decided to move over to Dublin for the year, one of the hardest parts was knowing I wouldn’t be able to be there on their wedding day. I had flirted with coming back, but I didn’t think I’d be able to afford it. Someone else would read my piece at the reception.

So with all that, and with me wanting to say goodbye to Uncle Fred, I woke up very early on a Thursday morning and flew home.

I spent Friday working on class assignments down in my parents’ basement. I hadn’t said anything to anyone about coming home, and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. It didn’t seem right to make this big announcement about me coming back; I was supposed to be in Ireland, right? It would upset the new order of everything! Plus, I was coming home for fairly solemn reasons, and it would seem cheap and dishonorable to turn Fred’s illness into an “I’m BAAAAACK!” moment.

Still, I was anxious to get out of that basement and see some friends, so I impulsively drove over to my place of employment to surprise an old friend. Turns out I surprised a few former students as well. I think Nick is still picking his jaw up from the sidewalk outside the school.

Caught up with the doings at work, then grabbed some drinks and dinner with friends at my favorite restaurant in Oswego. It felt like hardly any time had passed. And through the miracle of Facebook, people started hearing about my return.

On Saturday I cobbled together whatever fancy clothes I could find, and I drove to the Hardest-To-Find Wedding In The World. The service was supposed to start at 5:15. I got there around 25 minutes past and just made it.

Right around the time Mike and Liz said their vows, Uncle Fred quietly passed away, surrounded by his wife and children.

During the reception speeches were made and toasts were given. It came time for me to read my piece, and…well…I would say that reception was mixed, at best. The crowd had been primed to expect something short and funny, and instead I gave them something long and heartfelt. Maybe some of the crowd wasn’t expecting a short story catching up with Liz and Mike’s characters from those plays we had done, but that’s what they got.

When you have two former elementary students, two founders of the only family I’ve ever created from scratch, two people who I’ve shard a lot of life with¬†getting married...well, you don’t get up and make a sarcastic joke out of everything. You stand up and you say something true and heartfelt and earnest. You try to find words that sums up everything about where you were, where you are, and where you’re going.

 

A few days later I put on a black suit, and my step-Dad, Uncle, cousin and I wore white gloves on our hands and we laid them on Fred’s casket and we helped escort him into a small Lutheran church and we said our goodbyes. And true and heartfelt and earnest words were said about a quiet, decent man who did extraordinary things with his long life.

Last year Fred gave me a tour of his exhibit at the Plainfield Historical Society. After looking at his artifacts displayed in a glass case, I spent some time looking at the other historical pieces from that era. There was a woman’s uniform on display, either a WAC or a WAVE. In the story that accompanied the uniform, a woman talked about how when they were on leave for a night or a weekend, they would continue to wear their uniforms, because of how proud they were of the work they were doing.

I remember tearing up a bit when I read that, and even now I get a little lump in my throat thinking about her words. They were just so…genuine. I remember thinking: how different we are these days. We stick our heads in the sand and we ignore the ugly truth about our current wartime situation. We go shopping. We keep an ironic distance from everything. This woman was so proud of what her uniform represented, what her country was doing to rid the world of an ugly, unfathomable evil.

When the war ended, Fred flew repatriation missions in Europe, helping bring displaced peoples back to their homes. He called it the most fulfilling work of his life.