Monthly Archives: October 2013

“Impossible!” Live Theatre

This weekend I have had the privilege of immersing myself in the theatre this university provides. Last night I was treated to Water by the Spoonful, a fiercely evocative work about living with the past and dealing with the present, and today I managed to catch the last showing of Medusa Undone, the shocking backstory to the fabled Medusa. It had been way too long since I’d seen live theatre—I believe the last show I’d seen was Hamlet this August.

It’s really a pity that theatre doesn’t get the reputation that it deserves. Sure, there are many people who do respect the stage and the work that happens there, but most people would rather watch a movie or party or scroll through Facebook than actively seek out live theatre. It’s understandable; theatre can be expensive, and it’s so much easier to get attached to something, like movies, that you know will always be around.

Part of the beauty of theatre, though, is its lack of permanence. A show might run for a weekend or a year, but eventually it will end. Whereas a movie will stay around forever, a live production can only be crudely documented, and even then it loses some of its magic.

See, this weekend I was reminded of why I love not only performing, but participating in live theatre. The concept of a live performance opens up a distinct communication between actors and audience that a movie simply cannot achieve. The fact that the audience is different every night, and that the actors themselves are growing organically night my night, means that every performance is a living thing. When the curtain goes down, there will never be a performance exactly like what the audience has just witnessed. It is impossible to replicate.

That is what makes it so beautiful. The idea of impermanence lends itself to organic, dynamic relationships onstage and the thrill of the unknown. It lends itself to an intensely emotional experience between actors and audience.

Yes, there is “movie magic.” But there is also theatre magic, and that’s my favorite kind of all.

Now, some of the best kind of theatre magic:

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Are You out of Your Corn-Fed Mind?

Why Iowa?


If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked that question, I wouldn’t have to worry about my insane out-of-state tuition. Friends, family, and random people on the street all want to know why I would actually choose to relocate to the middle of nowhere. College usually takes people to big cities—New York, Chicago—or to a more affordable in-state university.

Well, I’m here to settle some things once and for all.

3. We are not swimming in corn

You cannot imagine how much snark I’ve gotten about how much corn I’m supposedly living in and playing with and eating. The first thing anyone thinks of when you mention Iowa is corn. These assumptions are not totally false—we do have a lot of cornfields—but corn is not the only thing we have.

We also have cows.

We also have cows.

For reference, I actually never see any cornfields unless I’m driving to the airport, which is thirty minutes away. I live my life very comfortably without this particular vegetable, thank you very much.

2. It’s beautiful here, and we actually have seasons

Another misconception is that Iowa is completely flat, but anyone who goes to my school would beg to differ. The first lesson a young freshman must learn is which street has the least-steep hill to climb on the way back to the dorms. I’m pretty sure the only reason we have a bus system is so students don’t perish halfway up the hills during the hot season or during the weeks of sidewalk ice.

Which brings me to my next point. I grew up in Seattle. I know all of the jokes: the one season we have here is Rain. That’s it. We might get a few weeks of sun in the summer, but everything else is a haze.

Not so in Iowa! One of the joys of my first year here was watching the seasons change. There’s something for everyone here. In summer, you get 100 degrees and brilliant shades of green throughout campus. Fall brings gorgeous colors in the trees. Winter can be chilly at -20 degrees, but the snow is a delight. Spring allows for more mild weather, with the slow awakening of new greenery.

You can’t say it’s not pretty here at some point in the year.

IT'S HIDEOUS.

IT’S HIDEOUS.

1. Writers write

All of that is great, but the real crux of the matter, why I decided to move to yes, Iowa, is the wonderful University here. I’m primarily a writer. I came here to write, and there has never been a more open and inviting place for that very purpose.

Did you know? The University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop was the first creative writing graduate program in the country, and it is still often considered the best. Did you know? Iowa City is one of six Cities of Literature in the world, and the only one in the country.

What does that mean? That means that on any given day, this city is teeming with creative life and energy. Writers are in and out of here constantly, giving readings and talks on the craft. Coffee shops are packed with people scribbling away. As Pulitzer-prize winning author Junot Diaz put it, “Throw a stone here and you’ll hit a writer.”

It’s true. The sheer number of connections that you can make within the program is astounding. There’s never a lack of talent, or of inspiration. I find, strangely, that I write more work when I’m at college, and I write better. Whether that’s because of the community or the excellent atmosphere of The Java House, it’s nevertheless a fact that I am grateful for.

So make all the Music Man jokes you want (believe me, I still make them). Iowa has its quirks, but it’s home—and there is no place I would rather be for school.

If you want more proof, check this out (warning: adult language).

 

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Saudades

Saudade – a feeling of nostalgic longing for something or someone that one was fond of and which is lost.

 

I have a collage of photos from high school theatre on my wall just in front of my desk. When I’m doing homework or sitting at my laptop I look up and see it there, and it’s like looking through a window into a past life. I know I had all of these experiences—the evidence is in front of me—but sometimes it’s hard to believe that at one point I was there, in the thick of it, undergoing changes I wasn’t aware of at the time. Occasionally I’ll go through old Facebook photos of productions or pull out a performance DVD and watch a few minutes, and I understand a part of what it feels like to be old.

Is it weird that a year and a half later I still remember all of the harmonies and all of the dance moves to Honey Bun?

Is it weird that a year and a half later I still remember all of the harmonies and all of the dance moves to Honey Bun?

Even though I know that not everything was fun and games in high school theatre, there’s a reason why they say that hindsight is rosy. When I look back on pictures, all I see is the heavily-made-up face of someone having the time of her life. There’s also the strange sensation of being frozen in time. It’s like having a horcrux, like a piece of soul that is stagnant, constant. There’s a word that my Creative Writing TA used to describe something similar to this sensation—some people taste words or hear colors. With this, I can look at an image and almost immediately be immersed in the scene. Sitting in group therapy in my first One Act? I can feel my palms sweating. Arms outstretched as a Lady-in-Waiting in our dubious production of the Wiz? I can smell the layers of makeup and feel the liquid glitter caked around my eyes. If I hear the end of the Parent’s Medley during a Grand Night for Singing, the song just before “It’s Me,” my heart actually starts pounding so fast I get lightheaded. This is a year and a half later.

This isn’t just with theatre, either. The feeling of saudades permeates experiences throughout life. I read somewhere that my generation is the most prone to nostalgia because we grew up too fast; the influx of technology aged us. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think that, to an extent, everybody has some degree of heavy nostalgia in their lives. Everyone has the saudades that make your heart ache with longing for a feeling that is near impossible to recover. Travel. Friendships. Events. Even since last year, things have changed. Life doesn’t stop for anything. People change, circumstances change.

I think a healthy dose of nostalgia is a good thing. Thinking of things long past can bring back some of the happiness of that time. It brings back appreciation and thankfulness for the opportunities that you have been given. It allows you to see yourself in the past and examine who you were then—and who you are now. Yes, I argue that saudades are wonderful, as long as they are tempered with a similar appreciation for the present: seeing good times in the past can be a great motivator in striving for things in the future. As Dumbledore says, “It does not do to dwell in dreams and forget to live.”

Did I just use two Harry Potter references in one post? Yes. Yes, I did.

Did I just use two Harry Potter references in one post? Yes. Yes, I did.

So, what are some of those things that make your heart ache with fondness and with yearning? What are your saudades?

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