Tonight I'll be at PantheaCon for the ritual of the Descent of Inanna performed by "House of Inanna" (my ATS belly dance troupe) and friends. It's been a fascinating experience so far, especially since I've not previously participated in any plays. Oh, I was the head of a green dragon during a play when I was maybe 6 years old, and I think I've been bit parts in other grade school plays… but that was usually a situation where the teachers were working hard to include everyone. Consequently there were often a lot of really pointless bit pieces that could be filled with the less popular kids, and I certainly qualified for that role as an awkward kid who was too smart for her own good.

Perhaps more relevantly, I have a strong understanding of teamwork due to both the horse shows my family attended while I was in school, and the occasional choirs in which I sang. I also learned about "being on" all the time while I was the second princess of Trimaris. That's all that's occurring to me off the top of my head… so yeah. This entire cycle of preparation for this ritual has been quite fascinating, and I thought I'd write down some notes for myself so that I learn good things from this endeavor — of both smart ideas I saw, and situations I would have done differently. Of course, if any of these ideas are of use to you, or you have any suggestions from your own experiences, I'd be delighted to hear from you. Also, I'm writing this as if I'm talking to myself, so the "you" being addressed below is just me.

  • The first thought I should keep in mind is this: putting on a performance seems much like a form of the project management in technology that I'm familiar with. There's a saying amongst the coders I know who're organizing timelines for their projects: figure out how long you think something will take — then double it! I suspect this goes for performances too; e.g.: if you think you'll need four rehearsals, schedule eight — and so on.
  • Make sure the folks in each part actually want to be there and want that part. Then make sure they're willing to put in the time to learn that part. It's probably better to have a role filled by someone less skilled but more willing to work their tails off, than someone extremely talented who is half-assed about the role.
  • Getting people to move in concert is harder than getting people to move individually. If you have a group chorus or troupe that are all supposed to be moving smoothly together, make sure to schedule time just for them to practice their part — and give them more of that type of rehearsal than everyone else. They'll need it — and once they finally "get it" they'll look great together! Plus knowing you care enough to work a little harder or extra with them is a huge motivator.
  • Keep in mind that just because someone can sing or dance doesn't mean they can act — and vice versa. If you have a truly beautiful dancer who is terrible at lines, for example, try seeing if instead they can dance their emotions. Be flexible to the needs and abilities of your participants.
  • If you have people who like to interrupt in the middle of rehearsal to offer their opinions and suggestions, try taking them aside later for a talk. Let them know that you really are interested in their thoughts — but in the middle of rehearsal isn't the place for that, as it disrupts everyone else. Ask them to keep those ideas in mind, and come to you with the suggestions once the practice is concluded.
  • Make sure the script and/or the music list is finished and ready for use before rehearsals begin. If you want to ask for feedback on the script or music, make sure you have plenty of time to listen and sift through suggestions so as to make the best choices that you can. Google docs are a fabulous way to share things like this. Thank everyone who participates and remember: even if you don't like their suggestions, they gifted you with their time and effort. Always, always thank them.
  • Props and set pieces can be produced while rehearsals have already started, but make sure they're all completed or nearly done before the first full dress rehearsal. That first full dress rehearsal should produce a lot of notes too: what isn't working yet, who can repair any damage, where does that prop or that costume have to be during this act and who will put them there, and so on. The second full dress rehearsal should hopefully have all those notes marked as solved… in a best case scenario, of course. By the third dress rehearsal there should be no more issues, hopefully — it should flow smoothly and well, and people can concentrate on polishing their performances rather than basic set or role work.
  • Rehearsals are when everyone memorizes their parts and learns their blocking, i.e.: where they stand or move on the stage. These don't have to be full rehearsals, of course — you can break them up by acts or by choreography or for stagehand prop movement training or whatever. Make sure everyone knows how to not block sight lines for the audience. Make sure everyone has attended at least a few of the rehearsals so they're not being taught basic parts of their role while everyone else is well past that point. If there's someone who never makes rehearsals, think long and hard about whether they're a good fit for their role, or not. Once everyone knows their part backwards and forwards, only then begin full dress rehearsals — since those should be nearly a piece of cake, rather than when the various roles are being learned.
  • Know when to delegate. If you don't have time to lead the chorus in extra rehearsals, make sure the most experienced or most enthusiastic participant knows the choreography really well — then make them responsible for organizing and teaching the chorus. Checking in periodically to make sure things are going well won't hurt, but unless there's a disaster remember to stay hands off. Conversely, if one of the chorus comes to you for extra teaching, either open those teachings to everyone, or refer them back to the assigned lead.
  • While it's true everyone has lives outside of the play/ritual/dance/whatever, make sure everyone keeps in mind that a professional, polished performance reflects well upon all of us. It will be important that everyone volunteers as much time as they can, and understands that this will take a significant chunk of effort. As a single example, in the last week before the performance there should probably be rehearsals every night, with people expected to participate in a majority of them.
  • If you're a performer, know your part. Practice it during every rehearsal you can get to, and then again later with other performers or friends if they're willing, and yet again when alone at home. If there's music, listen to it as much as you can; if there are lines, declaim them to your long-suffering family and pets! Practice your part repeatedly until it is second nature; until you can pick it up in the middle as if interrupted and still give a flawless performance.
  • If you're the director: be aware that while directing, you are "on" for your performers. Keep it positive — because whatever you say that is negative will carry far more weight than usual, and you can inadvertently crush someone through carelessness. Try hard to be kind: these people are all volunteering their time and effort to you. Try to suit people to their roles, as mentioned above. Give people a chance when you can; e.g.: if you've got someone who knows their role but is always late to rehearsal try pairing them up with someone who needs a bit more help in getting their role down pat. Sometimes more responsibility will help settle folks who're slightly careless with other people's time but good at taking care of themselves. However, also be aware that it's you that's going to have to do all the nasty shit: you're the one who'll have to "fire" someone from a role they can't fill, whether due to lack of talent or lack of practice.
  • There are lots of ways to direct. My personal choices follow: when directing, present yourself as calm and collected. Have the tools to hand to take notes, and do so re each rehearsal — perhaps even for the performance itself. Know the script inside and out. Be polite and as articulate as possible with your volunteers; don't let yourself get easily exasperated or angry. If someone is constantly flubbing their part or role, try to figure out if there's something in your instructions that's causing the issue. If not, try to figure out a non-humiliating way to better communicate with that person and help them fix things.

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Stagecrafting fun

14 Feb 2017 In: Craftiness, Dancing!, Random, Spirituality

I did a thing! Well, I painted a thing — for my ATS bellydance troupe's upcoming ritual of the Descent of Inanna, taking place this Sunday at Pantheacon. Woo!

This is my first time creating stuff for the stage, so I'm really quite pleased with how it all came out. The object in question is a moveable and reversible Ishtar Gate, with one side relatively true to the original and the other painted so as to be a gate to the Underworld. The husband of the troupe leader built the thing of lumber and canvas, then painted the background. It's cleverly done, too — the pillars are on wheels, and the crenelated top is removable. It's light enough, though also sturdy enough, that one person can push it around on their own (if necessary — it's smoother with two folks) when the Gate is completely assembled.

If I understand correctly, the artwork was supposed to be done by the son of the troupe sister who is organizing this event/ritual. However, when I walked up and asked if I could help, he gladly accepted. I think the poor guy was just realizing how little time he had to get so much done, honestly… because over time I ended up doing all of the "Heaven" side and finishing the "Underworld" side.

As previously mentioned, our gate consists of two tall pillars with a crenelated top piece. The troupe leader and the ritual manager explained that they wanted an Assyrian dragon, a lion, and a bull on each pillar, much like there are on the original Ishtar Gate. Admittedly the lions are actually only on the walls that line the road to the Gate, but they too are lovely — so we added them as well. The Underworld side has the demon Pazuzu on it, which is a neat trick for a couple of reasons. First, in my research for visuals on him I discovered that whenever he's depicted in a full-body pose (mostly in statuettes) he is invariably shown from the front — with one single exception that I know of, which has his lower body turned sideways like an Egyptian piece of art. Fortunately that one was enough for me to realize he had a scorpion's tail along with the four wings, clawed hands, raptor feet, etc. Secondly, he's a chronologically-later Assyrian demon rather than Sumerian like Inanna is. The reason for that is: "shut up!" she explained. :)

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(A review written in August 2005 of a book suggested by the Philosopher's Café group I used to attend. This review, while not that enthralling, is referenced in a later and better blog I wrote on torture. Both are creepily pertinent to today's issues)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

7) What are human beings really like: selfish and greedy or generous and kind?

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(A review written in August 2005 of a book suggested by the Philosopher's Café group I used to attend. This review, while not that enthralling, is referenced in a later and better blog I wrote on torture. Both are creepily pertinent to today's issues)

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

2) What do you think is the best answer to the question, "Why should I be a good person?"

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(A review written in August 2005 of a book suggested by the Philosopher's Café group I used to attend. This review, while not that enthralling, is referenced in a later and better blog I wrote on torture. Both are creepily pertinent to today's issues)

An extremely quick read with humorous cartoons on every page; this book presents ethics in a very non-threatening manner. As is the norm for the "Introducing [X]" series, a bit about the personal lives of the various philosophers is offered along with a quick slice of their beliefs.

It was nice to learn something about the private lives of these people, as I feel that helps make them a bit more memorable, and sometimes helps the reader put their writings into some understandable context.

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I found myself somewhat disturbed when the older white male speaker confidently asserted that Gandhi was the first person to really codify nonviolence. Had the speaker never heard of the extensive uses of nonviolence, both interpersonal and inter-clan, by many of the indigenous peoples of North America? The Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois) in particular leap to mind; as far as I know the whole point of their Confederation was to end the inter-clan violence and codify peaceful discussion as a better means of resolving conflict. This occurred well before the arrival of the colonizing whites, and the Haudenosaunee were wildly successful at it… to the point that historically much of our democratic processes are based on learnings from them. You'd think a history (I think?) teacher might want to know about the oldest, still-extant, true democracy in the world today, you know?

Puzzlingly, the speaker had previously mentioned Standing Rock as an example of the success of strategic nonviolence, noting with admiration several cases where the protestors even went to the lengths of aiding the very police and militia who were frequently violently oppressing them. Did the speaker think this was due only to the teachings of Gandhi? If so, with all due respect, he's not a very good teacher of history!

Further, I found myself disagreeing with his referring to the Standing Rock movement as concluded or "finished" – simply because the veterans had arrived. Let me be clear: I understand what he was trying to say, and I agree that once you have the culture's enforcers on your side, your cause is going to win in the long term. I also agree that it's quite likely the cops and militia at Standing Rock were and are reluctant to treat veterans the way they treated the protestors. Quite frankly the cops have clearly dehumanized the protestors to the extent that they – the people in power — were willing to lie about having used mace, tear gas, and fire hoses on the protestors… even when shown film of them doing so!

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I will be marching in the San Jose Women's March on the 21st of January, mostly because traveling to Washington to march is financially currently beyond me. Consequently when I heard there was free nonviolence training being offered in association with the march, I eagerly signed up. Not only do I want to be prepared ahead of time for the march itself (though the police are not at all concerned that there may be violence), but also I believe learning more about nonviolence as a form of protest is an extremely valuable idea.

I went to the training yesterday. It was… interesting. Mostly. I'm glad it was free, though; had I paid for it I would have been mightily annoyed. In retrospect, I think the nonviolence training group is not actually closely associated with the march, but rather is a group which intends to participate in the march, and thus offered this free training to everyone planning on attending… in order to gain access to that extensive group of people. Apparently if they can produce 100 people wearing their characteristic scarves (which they had for sale at the talk for $10) then they'll be allowed to lead the march.

To be fair, there was a handout which gave me something new: I did not previously know about the ACLU of California phone app at which "allows users to record law enforcement in real-time, alert other users to nearby law enforcement encounters, and to submit videos and incidents to the ACLU." I particularly like that it lets you set an automatic 'turn off' on your phone after recording something — so if a belligerent person demands your phone it shuts down and they cannot simply delete the recording.

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(originally published 15 November 2004)
 Still, like L'Engle, I hope we all continue learning throughout our journey of life… and I hope I have a long journey yet to go. I too want to constantly and happily relearn the importance and wonder of touch, of exploration and closeness with those you love.

I love her occasional turn of phrase, as well, as she describes wonderful creative concepts. Read this one, for example — her imagery is as lovely as her acceptance of the beauty of myth-making:

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(originally published 15 November 2004)
 The nature of creation & Self

On the other hand, I did admire the courage of someone willing to continue doggedly to write, even when she sold nothing whatsoever for an entire decade. I don't know if I'd have that kind of determination.

Also, some of her speculations on the nature of concentration rang true to me. I've often felt the focus of a child at play closely approximated the focus of an artist (or other unselfconscious adult) at work. Perhaps that's why it's so easy to lose yourself in activities you love — you're actually playing, not really working per se. As she notes:

The concentration of a small child at play is analogous to the concentration of the artist of any discipline. In real play, which is real concentration, the child is not only outside time, he is outside himself. He has thrown himself completely into whatever it is that he is doing. A child playing a game, … is completely in what he is doing. His self-consciousness is gone; his consciousness is wholly focused outside himself.

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(originally published 15 November 2004)
I came to this book with great expectations. Perhaps if I'd not loved A Wrinkle in Time so much, or hadn't been informed this book was a fabulous exploration of the wisdom of the maturing woman, I wouldn't have felt quite so much vague disappointment later.

Bestiaries depict mythical, moralizing animals, but are also potential allegorical sparks that can bloom into brilliant mental bonfires. My bestiary is this mythologizing animal's fascinated exploration of beauty & meaning in the wonder of existence -- in the hopes of inspiring yet more joyous flares of intellectual passion.



Collie’s Bestiary