Archives For Michel Foucault

Woden’s Day

November 21, 2012 — Leave a comment

On Woden’s Day¹, I made preparations for a great celebration.

But first, we shall talk about wisdom. Today’s class was about preparing our major research paper for the fall term. How to structure it, what to keep focus on, what to take out, proper documentation of sources, etc. etc. We have six questions to choose from. It only has to be 3,000 words or so, and I’ve already written one that long on The Merchant of Venice². Plus, the short play I’ve been working on is over 3,000 words, so another 3,000 word essay shouldn’t be too much trouble. Except.

Except this is the one where we have to get really theoretical and academic, with twenty different sources, and that might prove difficult for me. A lot of the people in the course did an undergrad at UCD in drama, and so they have a fairly deep background in theatre theory. Me? Not so much. I’m not sure if this is a difference between American and European traditions, but in my theatre world, we never got around to talking about Foucault or Pavis, or semiotics vs. phenomenology very much. We just did it, and had our own ideas of what “theory” is.³ Maybe we learned this stuff in some of the undergrad theatre courses I had, but darned if I can remember it now.

The other day one of the girls in the course referred to me as the “father figure” of the group. That could either be a compliment or a little sting at my age. I’m not the oldest member of the class, but I’m on the far side of it. So if I’m the Father Figure, then I should have a bit more wisdom about this whole theatre-theory-thing, right? It’s more than a bit frustrating that I don’t seem to “get” what they’re talking about as fast as the others. But when you talk to people in private, it turns out most of them don’t grasp it any more than I do (for the most part.) I mean, I’m not an idiot. I can be insightful about what Foucault was talking about in Discipline and Punish, but it tends to be more about the education world than the stage. (Once again, the teacher side of me wins out in the argument…)

Maybe the wisdom I have is in the part of my brain that says, “Okay, we can talk all day about psychological verisimilitude, or whether or not something is ‘Beckettian,’ but in the end, isn’t it about whether or not the show was any good? It either worked, or it didn’t.” And more specifically, in the youth instructional theatre world wherein I ply my trade, it’s mostly about, did the kids have a positive experience, did they learn something, and did it contribute in some small way towards them becoming a good person? Did it add to their first glimmers of wisdom?

Maybe that’s too simplistic of a view on it, but that’s what my gut tells me.


¹Woden is also known as Odin, the All-Father of Norse mythology. He hung from the World Tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days and nine nights to gain wisdom. And he also lost an eye…for wisdom. Wisdom’s important when you’re the All-Father.

² I turned in this essay a month ago, and haven’t yet found out my grade. I’d really like to know how I’m doing as far as my academic writing goes, because I’m pretty rusty with it. So seeing how I did would be helpful. Formative assessment, people…it’s important.

³ My theories of theatre tended to be, “Let’s just make it up as we go”, and “I’m tired of seeing the same shows done over and over again, so let’s write our own”, and “Let’s just poke fun at everything about this world.” I cite these examples:

Celebrating “50 years” of Limelight. As if we started in 1960 and dressed like NASA engineers. 

Let’s just make up a bunch of crazy Christmas skits and not really rehearse them too much. Yeah, THAT’LL go great! (Um, it didn’t.)

First show! About D-Day! Written by a 5th Grader! (And it was AWESOME.)

And of course, Lumberjacks. A musical based on a backstage wisecrack. More please.


September 27, 2012 — Leave a comment

Wednesday is like an easy Friday for me. Sort of.

It’s the last day of classes for me, so there’s the relief of knowing I don’t have to prepare for anything the next day. At the same time, it’s still the middle of the week, and I certainly don’t get to enjoy 4-day weekends over here. What usually happens is that I get some groceries after class winds up (we go until almost six on Wednesdays), relax a bit, but if I’m feeling focused, I try to get a bit of work done in the evening as well.

Today’s class, Research and Analysis in Drama and Performance, was a particularly “academic” session. We spent almost four hours discussing Michel Foucault’s ideas about discipline in schools and in the military, and philosophical concepts like phenomenology, i.e. understanding an object as just a pure object, not our concepts and ideas we project onto that object. All that existential philosophy I studied back in my undergraduate years really helped with today’s discussion, lemme tell you.

I also shared a story about lockdown drills and how they work in elementary schools. The mostly-Irish class was pretty astonished at what has become quite a regular feature at American schools: kids smashed into dark corners trying to “hide” from imaginary armed intruders. We take something scary and unimaginable and turn it into sometime practiced and “routine.” (This relates back to Foucault’s ideas about discipline, and I’ll just leave it at that, lest I bore you too much.)

What does this have to do with theatre, you might ask? Well, I ask myself that sometimes as well, but it has to do with how we perceive bodies and objects in space and time, and how arranging actors and props and set pieces on a stage can be seen and understood many different ways.

From my 2010 production of All These Will Be Worthless. Photo by the awesome Amy Weiland.

Still with me? Don’t worry: no more classes this week, so the rest of the week’s posts won’t get so intellectual.

Around 9 or 10 I usually put away the schoolwork and watch TV. (I don’t read for fun these days since I’m spending so much time reading the heavy stuff I mentioned earlier.) I’ve worked my way through most of Breaking Bad, and I’ve been revisiting some of the U.S. version of The Office, remembering when it was really, really good. I also try to absorb some of Irish pop culture as well, and that has mostly been through a series called Father Ted, which is very, very funny, and has aged well since it first aired in the mid-1990s.

There’s also a great BBC documentary series about Vikings that’s been running for the past few weeks. And if you think I’m going to skip Viking Day just because I’m not in a classroom, kids, well, think again! Stay tuned…

Tomorrow: laundry day!