Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lights, Drumroll, Action...

Last week, the time came once more for a biannual (sort-of) tradition—attending another performance of Corban’s Theatre Arts program. The play this fall?

Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

A post-apocalyptic rendition of Macbeth. Time-travelers instead of witches. Boarded-up houses, instead of grim castles. Air raid sirens instead of bells ringing.

In some respects, the most important question ought to be how Shakespeare comes out as a futuristic story, where—according to the program notes—a country has fallen low, reduced to scavenging among the ruins of past civilization.

Beyond just the setting, the production had action, of course, and promised plenty of weapons and violence as well:

That promise was well fulfilled.

Macbeth opened and closed on a battlefield. In the first, the three gaudy travelers burst through their portal in a chaos of lights and noise, freezing the battle below them and hand-picking Macbeth for their plots. Once they vanished, the battle resumed, while Macbeth and Banquo drove off the rebel armies. In the last battle, Macbeth the usurper slowly realized that he cannot escape the doom he has drawn down on himself.

The two battles effectively bookended a story reeking from beginning to end with mayhem, treachery, and murder.

More importantly, though, Director Tammy McGinnis and Assistant Director Rachel Ost framed the play as the story of choices, from Macbeth’s decisions ending in greed and madness to Banquo and Macduff’s choice of sacrifice and honor.

The production had, perhaps, some weaknesses—only a couple actors managed to articulate the Elizabethan dialogue consistently. Some of the scenes felt overwrought and ironic that should have felt touching. Some of the violence felt threatening, while other scenes passed as stage violence, making it hard either to chuckle or cringe.

At the same time, the cast shone—Duncan (Ralph Waldo Emerson III) ruled as a most excellent, gracious king before his untimely death. Lady Macbeth (Claire Clubb) argued persuasively for Macbeth to pursue blood with a vengeance and tried to convince herself of the same, arguing that she could have killed the king herself, had “he not resembled / My father as he slept.”

The loyal captain Macduff (Adam Fields) excelled in bombast as he argued for Duncan’s son, the lawful king to reclaim his inheritance—until news came of his own heart-breaking tragedy.

Macbeth’s other foil Banquo (Krystal Kuehn), provided a brief and effective balance to Macbeth’s rash decisions, but was mostly memorable for her dramatic and ghastly reappearance postmortem. (Yes, Banquo was played as a woman, as was Macduff’s ‘son’ and a number of minor characters. McGinnis and Ost made the changes to accommodate their available cast.)

Macbeth (Martin Fogarty), on the other hand, moved from puzzled to curious, trying to interpret the travelers’ message. When proof came that their first promise was true—and that he might hope to become king—Macbeth’s confidence became expectation, then doubt, irresolution, and finally action, falling swiftly to passionate remorse. While I had heard before the defiant “Wake Duncan with thy knocking!” Macbeth gave it a tragic pathos when he added almost wistfully, “I would thou couldst.”

Ultimately, the play ended as a solid, college production of Shakespeare—well done, but still difficult to follow in places because, well, Shakespeare is difficult. While his plays are certainly meant to be watched and not read, their language is nearly foreign to us. We are not used to listening to turn-of-the-17th-century idioms any more than we are used to the humor and attitudes of Shakespeare’s characters.

And yet, we are used to them, because they are universal characters, as well as universal motives and emotions. It may be shocking—and amusing—to listen while Macbeth calls out:

“Awake, awake!
Ring the alarum-bell. Murder and treason!

As from your graves rise up, and walk like sprites,
To countenance this horror! Ring the bell.”

particularly when the answering alarm bell rings forth as an air-raid siren. Renaissance and post-apocalyptic do mix strangely at times.

It is not shocking, however—or even surprising—to watch a loyal man driven to break his loyalty for greed or ambition. Macbeth's madness reminds us how easily evil can look like sanity.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Week 2

Last week, I announced that I’m attempting to write 50K words in the space of a month.

It’s a crazy attempt, especially since I love to rewrite each word and sentence half-a-dozen times before moving on to the next thought. So, in attempting the NaNoWriMo challenge, I’ve set a couple smaller challenges for myself:

First, I shall not rewrite. Not even one little conjunction. (Unless it’s misspelled, of course, or needs to be replaced by a… No! Not even one.)

Second, I shall attempt to use an outline—and stick closely to the core idea of the outline, while still allowing myself to ramble into new ideas. This, if it works properly, should allow me all the benefits of both structure and spontaneity, so that the ideas continue to flow in in smooth progression, while... (Wait, what was that again?)

I’m still not sure if I’ll last out the month, but if I can complete 50k words—or even a small part of the month’s total—it should provide a good foundation for the rest of the novel. To make this happen, I’ll only focus on the essentials for the rest of this month. I’ll see what happens with the rest of the story come December.

Meanwhile, it’s time to write my 2K words for today!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


If you are reading this, it’s because I’ve lost my mind.

(Or, perhaps I’m just on the verge of insanity.)

As of today, I have completed the first week of the annual NaNoWriMo challenge.

In case you haven’t heard, November is National Novel Writing Month. During this month, an estimated 300,000 people will spend an enormous number of hours writing…and writing…and writing.

Those who complete the NaNoWriMo challenge will have completed 50,000 words by midnight on November 30. In some genres, this would be close to a complete novel. My project novel, being fantasy, should be about twice that length in its final state, but 50K words is no small part of the project.

In fact, I am writing this post while it is still October, before the race begins. I have no idea whether I will make it all the way to the finish, but…

…the fact that you are reading this means I’m still going.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Napkin Folds and Airplanes

I’ve been home for two weeks now, and I’m slowly getting over the culture shock.

But, after five months in Alaska—and two weeks back in Oregon—I’m finding some things about ‘civilized’ life rather odd. I mean, how strange is this? I’m back in a place where it’s important to look for cars before crossing a road.

In Port Alsworth, we had to look out for airplanes.

Actually, it feels odd to have roads here instead of airstrips connected by two or three intersecting gravel lanes—not to mention what it feels like to ride in a car. I could count on one hand the number of times I rode in a car or truck in Port Alsworth this summer. Now I’m driving at least a couple times each week.

The move from a four-wheeler to a 15-passenger van is almost just as strange.

I do have to drive now if I want to go on a hike, but at least I don't have to worry about avoiding bears anymore.

And there's fresh fruit, unlimited Internet, free time…

Well, we did get free time at the lodge, in between working odd hours. Still, it was always limited by the next project on hand—prepping for dinner, turning on the fuel pump for a pilot, getting to bed at a decent hour so that we could start breakfast prep by 6:30 or 7:00 next morning.

Some things make me happy—no more fuel pumps, no more running down to the Cache so someone can buy a 50-cent lollipop, no more ironing sheets and tablecloths before we use them. Instead, I can stop by Walmart on my way home from tutoring. My decision process at the store takes just as long as ever, but I can pick things up myself and not wait for them to get mailed in.

One of these days I'll even check some books out at the library again.

Oh, and we don’t use decorative napkin folds at home. Now that’s kind of strange.

I’m getting used to it. Slowly.