Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ray Carter: In Memorium

My friend Ray Carter died last night.

I actually felt a little guilty typing that. We hadn't seen each other in a few years but he was somebody who I liked a LOT...we worked together on a cool project a bit over a decade ago. And I'm damn sorry to see him gone. Ray had been fighting cancer for some time and his prognosis suddenly became VERY bad last week. I had hoped to take some movies to him today and join him at his life celebration next weekend. Sadly, those opportunities are now gone and instead there are only happy memories of having known him.

I first met Ray in 1999 or 2000, when I was trying to get a political group for pro-gun Democrats off the ground. I don't remember how we met but the Pink Pistols movement (Motto: pick on someone your own caliber") was starting then. I guess someone introduced us because the bizarre politics in this country have the Democratic "leadership" hating gun owners and taking gay folks for granted....while Republicans often do the exact opposite.

Still, the success of the Pink Pistols and their intention of taking responsibility for their own safety was refreshing. They are still around and doing well today. Our local Seattle area group named itself CeaseFear with the intention of twitting the state's anti-gun group, CeaseFire. I remember being at a hearing in Olympia and one of CeaseFire's minions giving a startled doubletake at the sound of our name. That alone was worth the price of admission.

I think it was Ray himself who coined the name CeaseFear. Most of our creative ideas and a great deal of the energy behind the organization came from him. Ray had been an early organizer for Seattle Pride events and saw no conflict between that and his self defense and gun rights activism. Would that more voters out there had the insight to see that!

During the time that CeaseFear was most active, our activities were concentrated on having shooting events that were LGBT-friendly, a few safety classes, political outreach at Pride events and offering testimony in Olympia. The orientation for safety minions like myself was to join a tour of gay bars in Seattle's Capitol Hill area, the intention being to make sure we were comfortable and friendly with LGBT folks. Actually, it was a blast and the camaraderie in our organization was excellent...again, thanks to Ray.

After a few years, a lot of us found ourselves focusing on staying employed in one economic downturn after another. I was connected to Ray on Facebook and we stayed in touch that way. I occasionally saw him at the Second Amendment Foundation table at gun shows...SAF and local NRA leaders gave our organization tremendous support and Ray ended up working there.  And now, unfortunately, he's gone. Ray was a wonderful person and we don't get to see people of his quality and intelligence nearly often enough. We WILL miss Ray Carter!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Volunteering with Seattle Shakespeare

Last weekend, I went to see the brilliant Seattle Shakespeare production of Romeo and Juliet (comments posted here). Today, I took the day off of work and volunteered as an usher at one of their matinees, thereby 1) evading work for a day and 2) getting to see Romeo and Juliet a second time just by helping out a little. What a GREAT day!

I arrived at Seattle Center a bit early, not knowing what the experience would be like. From the beginning, the signs boded well for an enjoyable experience:

Walking into the theater and not as a member of the audience felt very different. OK, this may sound strange but the theater felt...pregnant. Full of possibility.

Now I'll make another comment that may sound strange. The actors reminded me of computer programmers. Not from some sense of deep geekiness or because I heard some cast members discussing SQL queries during intermission but because of their laser-like focus while watching off stage, waiting for their next scene. Much like developers focus in on their monitors as they work, I could see the actors watching everything happening on stage intently. It was awesome and I felt a sudden kinship with them. (Maybe their occasional distracting audience members are like the people who like to wander by developers and interrupt, asking why they're so quiet)

From the beginning, I wondered what I would be asked to do. Would I be taking tickets? Helping to move stuff around?

No. They asked me to guard the weapons.

Today's matinee was for a number of local schools and there was some concern that some of the high school boys would suddenly grab a rapier and start playing with it during the beginning, end or intermission. Granted, asking me to watch the swords was a bit like using a fox to guard a hen house. But I want to make this a recurring volunteer gig and so I kept the high schoolers and even my own self from playing with the swords.

After the play, we ushers made a few passes through the seats to tidy things up. I found myself strangely sad that the day was over. I may have been the lowest minion around but I felt a little bit like I had helped make something awesome happen.

One last note: Romeo and Juliet's run ends in three days. If you have the option, I can't recommend seeing this play highly enough!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Just for fun...word frequency in Romeo and Juliet

Every once in a while, just for fun, I run a word frequency count on a Shakespeare play. The results probably don't mean a whole lot but they do give kind of an interesting look at what language is used most in the play.

Here are some of the top words used in Romeo and Juliet and how often they appear (including stage directions):

     romeo       Count:   294
     you       Count:   291
     thou       Count:   276
     me       Count:   264
     not       Count:   258
     with       Count:   251
     juliet       Count:   176
     thy       Count:   167
     what       Count:   164
     will       Count:   147
     nurse       Count:   143
     thee       Count:   139
     love       Count:   135
     capulet       Count:   133
     shall       Count:   110
     lady       Count:   105
     come       Count:   97
     friar       Count:   97
     ill       Count:   84
     mercutio       Count:   83
     now       Count:   82
     good       Count:   82
     benvolio       Count:   80
     death       Count:   69
     well       Count:   68
     night       Count:   68
     tybalt       Count:   67
     we       Count:   66
     man       Count:   64
     there       Count:   64
     hath       Count:   63
     our       Count:   60
     paris       Count:   59
     their       Count:   47
     give       Count:   47
     yet       Count:   47
     doth       Count:   47
     dead       Count:   47
     let       Count:   45
     tell       Count:   45
     fair       Count:   43
     day       Count:   42
     take       Count:   41
     montague       Count:   41
     first       Count:   33
     prince       Count:   33
     sweet       Count:   33
     gone       Count:   33

A Dream of Romeo and Juliet

We've been attending Seattle Shakespeare Company's more regularly over the past couple years and continually grow more impressed with the accomplishment of their productions. Yesterday's play was Romeo and Juliet and, once again, we are VERY impressed.

One tactic that Seattle Shakespeare has used in several plays now is to do something unexpected that takes audience members off guard and immediately immerses them in the world of the play. For example, last Fall's Comedy of Errors had an aerialist swinging on the pendulum of a giant clock. Romeo and Juliet was framed within scenes of people trapped without their will or understanding on a stage and forced to act out parts they did not choose. There is a hint that everything that happens is a dream or an illusion...including time and its demands. It worked extraordinarily well, changing the audience from intentional viewers of an artistic production on a rainy Saturday afternoon into "observers" of "real people" trying to act on a bewildering and violent world they wake up in and make their story a romance...not a tragedy.

Memes are all the rage on the Internet these days and there is one that scoffs at the notion that Romeo and Juliet is really a love story. The thing to consider is, if circumstances had been different it COULD have been the beginning of an excellent love story. IF Romeo and Juliet were not members of families literally at war with one another. IF duels to the death were not commonplace. IF there had been just a little more time...

Granted, there are obstacles to overcome. Romeo is impetuous and a bit fickle: he starts the play mooning over another woman (or maybe he was originally promised a part in As You Like It). While older than Juliet, he is clearly very young himself. He does show promise of integrity and priorities more far reaching than bloodshed in the streets...given time, he would undoubtedly have been quite a character. I thought that Riley Neldam ably captured this ambiguous state and promise.

The character of Juliet was played by Anastasia Higham. She carried out this first starring role in a production perfectly. A year ago, I saw her playing various roles in the Seattle Shakespeare touring production of Macb....the Scottish play. To see her go in just a year from being little Fleance (anachronistically playing with a toy airplane) to an exquisite young woman experiencing love for the first time in dire circumstances was something special.

But we all know, the love story between Romeo and Juliet isn't taking place in the Forest of Arden. It is taking place in a society rent by strife and violence, strife and violence that are largely personified in the person of Tybalt. Tybalt is the character whose hatred of the Montagues shows itself in a constant desire to fight and kill them. Alan Rickman took a turn as Tybalt in the 1978 BBC production of Romeo and Juliet and his Tybalt was fairly urbane, seeking a fight with Romeo by trying to avoid engaging Mercutio.

Treavor Boykin's Tybalt was something very different and ferocious. This image from the Seattle Shakespeare site of him attacking  Andrew Lee Creech's Benvolio captures this incredibly well. These two characters and Trevor Young Marston's pitch perfect Mercutio play a huge part in creating the world of strife in which the play takes place, the violence and the fatalistic acceptance of that violence that it ultimately leads to. Only Benvolio and Romeo among the young men seem interested in finding more to life than carousing and killing.

I enjoyed every bit of this performance, both the traditional aspects and the new insights and emphases found by its director, Vanessa Miller. Among the new faces, seeing familiar faces like Mike Dooly (Lord Capulet) and George Mount (playing the Prince, the Chorus and Fate) made the experience familiar, as well as new and thought provoking.

If you haven't seen this production of Romeo and Juliet yet, you have one more week in which to do so. I am volunteering as an usher this week and excited at having an opportunity to see this play one more time!

Treavor Boykin (Tybalt)
Andrew Lee Creech (Benvolio)
Mike Dooly (Lord Capulet)
Chris Ensweiler (Friar Laurence)
Morgan Grody (Servant)
Anastasia Higham (Juliet)
Justin Huertas (Dream/Death/Apothecary)
Trevor Young Marston (Mercutio)
Claire Marx (Lady Montague)
Carolyn Marie Monroe (Lady Capulet)
George Mount (Prince/Chorus/Fate)
Riley Neldam (Romeo)
Jason Salazar (Ensemble)
Kerry Skalsky (Lord Montague)
Jordan Iosua Taylor (Paris)
Kathryn Van Meter (Nurse)
Elizabeth Wu (Ensemble).

Production Team

Vanessa Miller (Director)
Craig Wollam (Set Designer)
Kelly McDonald (Costume Designer)
Tim Wratten (Lighting Designer)
Robertson Witmer (Sound Designer)
Justin Huertas (Composer)
Crystal Dawn Munkers (Assistant Director/Choreographer)
Geof Alm (Fight Choreographer)
Robin Macartney (Props Designer)
Tori Thompson (Stage Manager)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Michael Almereyda's Cymbeline

All of my friends who I've talked to about this movie who are fellow Shakespeare geeks have panned it. I will explain a bit here about why I actually enjoyed this movie and will watch it again...

When evaluating a movie or play, I think a crucial to define the category under which it's being evaluated. For example, evaluating Ian McKellen's Macbeth as a situation comedy would not rate it very highly. There were very few laughs. And evaluating Viggo Mortensen in "A History of Violence" as a musical extravaganza would similarly rate it poorly. This despite the fact that both were excellent, all around.

So how should this version of Cymbeline be rated? As a straightforward Shakespearean production, it would not score very highly. As a Shakespeare geek, applying that measurement was my first thought. Under that categorization, for example, Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing" was superb. Not that I'm biased, being a total Joss fan boy... :)

But while I was watching this version of Cymbeline, I found myself enjoying it. I wasn't *loving* it but I enjoyed the experience and I know I'll watch it again. Then it occurred to me that I enjoyed it because it did what so few Hollywood movies do these days: it took some big chances and tried to do something memorable. It hired some very talented people (Ed Harris, Milla Jovovich, Anton Yelchin; NOT Ethan Hawke. I'm reserving judgement on the lovely Dakota Johnson) and took on the huge challenge of setting one of Shakespeare's most complex plot lines in a modern setting. Cymbeline is a very thoughtful fairy tale play and thoughtful isn't something we see a lot of in Hollywood. It tried to do something big and succeeded modestly, in my opinion.

So given that categorization, I would recommend taking a look at this movie.