Sunday, December 3, 2017

Other Libraries Around The World

Being a library geek, I usually make a point of stopping in libraries when traveling. Here are some libraries that I have really enjoyed seeing.

First, Toronto's North York Central Library. All in all, an amazing facility!

These photos were taken in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. It's a Carnegie library so it postdates Shakespeare by a few years. Nice cozy facility, though.

This last picture is the only good shot I got of the Whitehorse Public Library. Nice view of the Yukon River outside, eh?

The Old Hometown Library (Niagara Falls, NY)

A post on Facebook inspired me to post some pictures of the main library in my hometown. This wasn't the original was built in the early 1970s. But it was my library through my high school and college years, so I've got a lot of history here.

I'll leave the convoluted story of its design history and legal wrangling over issues with its design for others, e.g., this article.

Here are some photos of the outside, taken in recent years.

These two photos of the outside were taken in Winter in the mid-1980s.

These photos on the inside were taken a couple years ago

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Julius Caesar performed at Niagara University

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I was attending Niagara University in Western New York state. One evening, I went with the campus literary club to see my first Shakespeare play (The Merry Wives of Windsor). I'd like to claim that I was immediately captivated and "got" Shakespeare but that would not really be true. I did enjoy it and understood that there was a great deal of interesting, stimulating material in the text, though.

Over the years, I occasionally saw another Shakespearean play performed. When they really came alive for me was when I listened to the Great Courses taught by Peter Saccio. Since then learning more about the plays and their interpretations and subtexts has become very important to me. I have even seen Sir Antony Sher in the role of Falstaff at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. I see nearly every performance by the Seattle Shakespeare Company and volunteer there as well.

Last month, the Seattle Shakespeare Company produced Julius Caesar and while preparing for a trip to visit family I discovered that Niagara University Theatre would be performing Julius Caesar as well. Two nights ago, I attended a performance at NU. It was very much worth the trip!

Sometimes shallowly politicized in this wacky political year, Julius Caesar is actually a cold, hard look at the reality behind the scenes in political intrigues...and a warning that choosing the wrong course of action based on a flawed analysis can produce devastating consequences. Those unintended consequences can include creating the very nightmare scenario that was meant to be avoided!

The set design was clean and stark, a number of cold stone columns and thrones, rearranged during scene changes to create different environments. Several masked performers slouched around the theater and watched coldly before the start of the play.

(Here the crew begins intermission cleanup. There WAS blood, though not at Titus Andronicus levels)

The cast as a whole was well-rehearsed and tuned into what was happening in the play, what their characters' motivations were. Casting was often against written gender, with a male Calpurnia and female Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Marcus Brutus and Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony). In fact, all of the conspirators who assassinated Julius Caesar except for Gaius Cassius Longinus (Cassius) were women. And the combat scenes were on point.

While all of the performers did great work, my favorites were the actors in the roles of Cassius, Brutus and Marc Antony. Johnny Barden's Cassius WAS lean, hungry and dangerous. Kayla McSorley's Brutus was a Roman stoic, with a fine mind and poor political instincts. Rachael Buchanan was a *terrific* Brutus: happy under Julius Caesar, coldly furious when initially confronting Caesar's killers and manipulating the mob, casually choosing the list of people who the triumvirs would execute. I can easily imaging her playing a key role in the Upstart Crow Collective's all-female Henry VI/Richard III cycle.

All in all, this was a wonderful performance and it was a treat to be sitting in the Niagara University Theatre once more. And to see the campus again...


Written By: William Shakespeare
Directed By: Steve Braddock
Sets By: David Dwyer
Costumes By: Maureen Stevens


Sonia Angeli  (Portia/ Lucilius)
Johnny J. Barden IV  (Cassius)
Rachael Buchanan  (Antony)
Briegette Bullock  (Trebonius/ Octavius)
Krista Cantrell  (Cinna/ Strato)
Marissa DelVecchio  (Decius/ Clitus)
Nicholas Edwards  (Metellus Cimber/ Volumnius)
Kalee George  (Casca/ Titinius)
Mersedez Hoover  (Caesar)
Kayla McSorley  (Brutus)
Kevin Trala  (Artemidorus/ Messala)
Elijah Vasquez  (Soothsayer/ Pindarus)
Christian Webster  (Calpurnia/ Soldier)
Russell Wilson  (Lucius)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Why I Enjoy Shooting Guns

Someone who has been a dear friend for most of my life asked:
Ok you guys, can you tell me what is the appeal about, say shooting at a gun range? I know I would not like it because loud noises scare me. But I think all the clicking noises associated with guns in the movies, I'd enjoy those. What else is the draw? The skill or thrill of hitting the target? The power? The control over a powerful, deadly machine (like driving a fast car?) The phallic nature of guns? The pre-shooting routines of preparation? The relief you didn't get hurt when you're done, that you
dealt with a deadly weapon and survived? The recoil and possibly resulting soreness or injury? What makes it fun? I'm honestly curious, and I couldn't answer my kid when she asked me.
Good questions, Viv and I'll do my best to answer them. I appreciate the opportunity.

Things I like about shooting guns:
  • The enjoyment of mastering a challenging skill that not everyone can master
  • Knowing that I can protect myself and my family in many circumstances
  • The gun culture - the people - the history
  • Shooting is FUN
Some more detail:

The enjoyment of mastering a challenging skill that not everyone can master

I like to take on challenges that not everyone can do. I love finding a challenge like riding motorcycles, rock climbing, math/computers, reading Shakespeare, driving a car with a manual transmission.

Some of these skills have a macho reputation but they are all skills that *anyone* can apply themselves to and excel at. And there's a huge satisfaction to it. Rock climbing isn't about pulling yourself up by your arms, you mostly use your legs (which puts women on a pretty even footing, especially since they weigh less). There's a huge mental aspect to it, too.

Similarly, shooting isn't about yelling "Yeeha" and jerking the trigger as fast as you can. It's about applying a set of known fundamentals (safety awareness,consistent grip, correct trigger press, breath control (so it's like yoga, just more exciting)). I've seen guys go to the range for the first time, sure that their manliness will make them instant experts and end up looking like a goof. Then a woman goes, works with a coach and is quickly a very good shot.

Shooting is challenging but it's a challenge that gives no advantages to men or young/strong people. People of either sex can enjoy shooting and get better, well into old age. And I know it's significantly less dangerous than the commute to work.

Knowing that I can protect myself and my family in many circumstances

I won't go into this too much. There was a night when I was in Reno at 2 AM with my family and there were a few young creeps outside talking about breaking into a room. They didn't know that I was wide awake behind our door with a .45 loaded with state of the art hollow points.

Fortunately, they left to get more intoxicants and we quickly loaded up the car and bugged out. A Hispanic family across the parking lot had the same idea and we watched out for each other. But since that night, self defense with guns has gone from something theoretical to something I will never, ever give up.

The gun culture - the people - the history

Gun culture in the US is nothing like the stereotype. Many women who are friends of mine are avid shooters. I've gone shooting with Black Folks, Asian folks and gay folks. Fritz and I are in the "straight but not narrow" community and were safety helpers for a local Pink Pistols group around 1999, along with a few other friends (Wendell, Boyd).

You know all the faux controversy about women (shudder) competing with men in sports? In 2017? I wrote another blog post about the fact that the first woman to compete in the NRA National Matches did so in 1906. Women have competed in shooting and been welcomed there ever since. I collect old NRA magazines going back to the 1930s and there are many, many photos of women on shooting teams or being taught to shoot by their families, from the 1930s until now. The NRA celebrates women's success in shooting. Enthusiastically. Name another sport both sexes participate in that does.

The first woman elected to the NRA board of directors was elected around 1950. FDR was an NRA supporter. JFK was an NRA life member.

Getting started as a shooter in New York would have been hard. Everyplace else that I've lived, there has been a friendly, active gun community.

Shooting is FUN

In the end, casually shooting at paper or a tin can is a very enjoyable, relaxing activity.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Seattle Shakespeare Company Takes On Julius Caesar

With 2017 being the year that it is, it was with some trepidation that I went to see Julius Caesar today.  While I love Seattle Shakespeare's work, a number of productions have used productions of the play this year to score ham-fisted political points, in a year following a contentious elections.

I expected more from Seattle Shakespeare....and I got it.

The idea of using this play as a symbolic representation of an elected representative whose power is severely constrained by our 3 branches of government, including a court system, is frankly ludicrous. Further, a big point raised by Shakespeare in the text is that Caesar was a POTENTIAL dictator who was killed out of hand before he had a chance to show whether he would be a dictator...or would not. Further, the rash act of assassinating him ultimately ushered in the dictatorship (the rise of Octavius Caesar and Imperial Rome) he was murdered to avoid. This play amply demonstrates the risks of acting rashly and creating the very awful situation rash people had been trying to avoid.

If anything, the presentation of this play was remarkably even handed. Casual antifa-like characters slaughter a poet who has the misfortune of bearing the same name as one of Caesar's killers, while the short-lived triumvirate of Antony/Octavius/Lepidus casually prick off people to be murdered in a grotesque parody of political compromise. Murder becomes a tedious duty, sort of an ancient Rome as Belfast. There was lots of casual violence and some vague talk of liberty that remained as vague as it too often does today.

I think my favorite parts of this production were the relationships between Brutus and Portia, Brutus and Cassius, Brutus and Caesar. And all these actors were up to the challenge of those roles.

Managing director, John Bradshaw wrote some very well-considered comments for the program of this play. He notes that in 2011, some patrons were freaking out about the casting of male parts for women. Those patrons surely hated last season's brilliant all-female casting of Bring Down the House, which is completely their loss. Thank you John Bradshaw and the rest of the production team for crediting your audience with some intelligence. Politics are very complicated these days, with many seeing last year's presidential election as a rigged battle between two unlikable candidates, both of whom would be invested by their partisans with too much power. As someone utterly contemptuous of both major parties and their shared interest in unfettered power at the expense of the other half of the populace, I am deeply grateful to Seattle Shakespeare for not taking the simple....and wrong....way to a simple narrative.

Next month, I am going to my alma mater back East and will see their production of this play too. I only hope that they also take the high road and not the easy way out.

Cleanup during the intermission. Not as intensive as the Titus Andronicus cleanup.

Production Team

George Mount (Director)
Craig Wollam (scenic design)
Doris Black (costume design)
Roberta Russell (lighting design)
Erik Siegling and Robertson Witmer (sound design)
MJ Sieber (video and projections design)
Peter Dylan O’Connor (fight choreographer).


Allan Armstrong (Trebonius/Rioter)
Annie Yim (Marullus/Cinna/Rioter)
Arlando Smith (Decius/Rioter)
Bradford Farwell (Cassius)
Brian Simmons (Metellus/Rioter)
Bridget McKevitt (Cicero/Antony Servant/Citizen)
Chantal DeGroat (Casca)
David Rock (Lepidus/Popilius/Octavius Servant)
Dylan Zucati (Lucius/Citizen)
Jaime Riggs (Flavius/Artimedorus/Cinna the Poet)
Lorenzo Roberts (Marc Antony)
Macall Gordon (Calpurnia/Pindarus)
Peter Crook (Julius Caesar)
Reginald Andre Jackson (Brutus)
Sunam Ellis (Portia/Citizen)
Tyler Trerise (Soothsayer/Octavius).

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Snohomish Pictures

Yeah, balloon flights over the town are a thing in Summer.


Downtown area...right beside a river

The following two pictures are ones that I took. 5 minutes out of town.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Near Summer Night's Dream

When you go to a Seattle Shakespeare play, you can always expect that you'll see an excellent production that takes a unique look at a Shakespeare play. They are currently pulling out all the stops with their production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, produced this time as a cross between the Bard and a 1940ish musical production.

It's pitch perfect. The Shakespearean text and context are there but the musical numbers are snappy and the actors also nail the personality types from that era: the big city jaded look is hilarious when it's projected onto Titania and her fairies when they are catering to the whims of bottom.

Everyone in this play is fantastic and very accomplished but I just have to call out a few

George Mount as Theseus - I've enjoyed his work ever since I first saw him as Richard II a few years ago.

Terence Kelley, Vanessa Miller and John David Scott were terrific respectively as Oberon, Titania and Puck.

Keiko Green - this lady is a performer to watch. She has terrific comedic timing and is an excellent
Shakespearean performer. My wife and I were also commenting that this year must have been a LOT of hard work for her, as she rehearsed/performed in Upstart Crow's Bring Down The House as the warrior lord Buckingham and then went to rehearsal in a Shakespearean musical/comedy.

MJ Sieber - he has played both a fantastic Bottom (One of my favorite characters in the show) and
Autolycus in The Winter's Tale, this year.

I recommend getting out to see this production highly! You *will* have fun!

Cast (in alphabetical order)

Shanna Allman (Flute)
Maddie Brantz (Fairy)
Mallory Cooney King (Hermia)
Steven Davis (Starveling)
Sarah Dennis (Fairy)
Bob Downing (Snout)
Brandon Felker (Egeus/Quince)
Keiko Green (Helena)
Devyn Grendell (Fairy)
Terence Kelley (Oberon)
Vanessa Miller (Titania)
George Mount (Theseus)
Crystal Dawn Munkers (Hippolyta)
Casey Raiha (Lysander)
John David Scott (Puck)
ZoƩ Tziotis Shields (Fairy)
MJ Sieber (Bottom)
Adam St. John (Demetrius)
Marco Voli (Snug)

Production Team

George Mount (Director)
Crystal Dawn Munkers (Choreographer)
Nir Sadovnik (Composer)
Craig Wollam (Set Designer)
Doris Black (Costume Designer)
Roberta Russell (Lighting Designer)
Robin Macartney (Props Designer)
Terry Gray (Sound Consultant)
Dayton Allemann (Music Director)