Everything’s Better With Puppets

by Rick Curtiss Dramaturg

IMG_0476

happysadness is better with puppets.

Everything is better with puppets. The nature of this phenomenon might not seem obvious at first. After all, puppets are for kids aren’t they? Haven’t we, as adults, moved past the juvenile and broad nature the world of puppets provides? The answer to both of these questions is a steadfast no.

Adults love puppets.

It might be attributed to nostalgia, butt here is something inherently adult about puppets. This can be seen in the many ways puppets have been marketed for adults. The Muppet Show had kid-friendly content, but the goal was to entertain the whole family, adults included. Others followed this trend with various degrees of family friendly (and not so friendly) content. Madame’s Place, Dinosaurs, Sifl & Olly, Greg the Bunny, Crank Yankers, and several other tv shows included puppets as primary characIMG_0484ters and were targeting beyond the kid market. Puppets for adults hasn’t only happened on television.  The musical Avenue Q purposely spoofed Sesame Street to tell a decidedly adult tale, and Schockheaded Peter used puppets to warp a children’s book into a much more adult affair on stage.

happysadness uses puppets which deal with mature themes. These beautiful creations were made by Nat Reed’s 2016 puppeteering class at BYU. They are beautifully constructed and completely believable. I remember watching The Muppets Take Manhattan as a child and thought that muppets felt like real live connected beings in the world. The actual human performers felt flat and two-dimensional nextIMG_0480 to them. This flatness isn’t the case for happysadnessl; the humans are just as expressive as the puppets, but it highlights how easy it can be to connect with two eyes and felt draped over a hand. Some say that puppet show are a good way to talk about difficult issues–if anything becomes too serious, it can be laughed away as being silly  because of the puppets. This isn’t the case in happysadness. The puppets aren’t placeholders for real things that need to be diffused to become accessible. Instead, the puppets are the reflection of inner experiences– the actual reflection and the best representation. Continue reading

Oxymoron

by Rick Curtiss Dramaturg

ox·y·mo·ron

/ˌäksəˈmôrˌän/
noun
  1. a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction (e.g., faith unfaithful kept him falsely true ).

I learned about this word (I assume in the same way everyone did) from a scene in the 1994 movie Renaissance Man where Danny DeVito’s character explains it to a group of students. I don’t remember anything else about the movie, but the oxymoron scene is etched so deep in my memory that I can still here Danny DeVito say “girly man” over the crackly drive-in speaker.

It was the first time I realized that watching a movie and learning something new could happen simultaneously, which was a revelation to my eleven-year-old mind. Two seemingly opposite things could both be true, education and entertainment, fun and serious,

happy and sadness

happysadness

happysadness is both an oxymoron and the title of a new play by Chandra Lloyd. Last year it was workshopped in WDA, and this year it is the show performing for the Microburst Theatre Festival–a full production directed by Taylor Hatch and almost entirely created by students and alumni. It is performing in the Nelke this February 23-25. As the dramaturg for happysadness, I would sum up the show as personal and wide reaching / or fictional biography / or simply complicated.

The contrasting title serves it well. Continue reading

Tabula Rasa

By Rick Curtiss, Dramaturg

To sell a show like Travesties, you have have some big names, but what is a name anyway?

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet—

is a popular phrase muttered by one of Shakespeare’s star crossed lover’s. It is oft quoted but perhaps not perfected until The Simpsons added,

Lisa: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Bart: Not if you called ’em Stenchblossoms.
Homer: Or Crapweeds.
Marge: I’d sure hate to get a dozen Crapweeds for Valentine’s Day. I’d rather have candy.
Homer: Not if they were called Scumdrops.

Names are arbitrary—Names are essential.

Names aren’t my strong point.

Mindy Khalin rejects the idea of someone being bad at names in her memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? She posits that being bad at names is just an excuse for laziness. While I don’t doubt that personal laziness is a factor in my inability to successfully recall names; I wonder if might there be some poorly understood, underlying, biological, and/or social factors that at least play some role in name recognition?

Take Cats for instance.

The T.S. Elliot penned Andrew Lloyd Webber musical has a song called “The Naming of Cats.” This song illustrates that cats have three names, one everyday name, one special unique name and one name that only the cat herself knows. All the cats in Cats use their second name—the one that is wholly unique to them; and I must say, that in this one aspect of social progress; I think cats have us beat. I can always associate one unique name with the one unique cat and no other. Ask me the name of my roommates, and I have about a fifty-fifty shot of naming all three within ten seconds. Ask me the name of the railway cat and I will answer Skimbleshanks, instantly, every time.

There is a power in uniqueness, and power in creating a unique name. It is both a clean slate and an endless opportunity. When I tell people, my name is Rick, I am instantly compared, consciously or not, to all the other Ricks that person has known. If you name your child Adolf, it automatically comes with (hopefully unwarranted) baggage, but an original name is only defined by the originator.

Which is part of the reason I think Madonna was so successful. Sure, she wasn’t the original, but it was original enough to set her distinctly apart.

See also, Lenin

Lenin

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, isn’t well known. The name seems exotic and unique, but in its original late nineteenth century Russian context, I’m sure it felt as arbitrary as John Smith. Vladimir had some crazy ideas as he got older, spent some time in exile, and eventually adopted the name Lenin—which has much wider circulation. Derived from a river he was living near during exile, Ulyanov used Lenin as a pen name to protect himself, but it became something more. Lenin became the voice of a revolution; a name that didn’t have to fight thousands of other arbitrary associations. Lenin became the blank canvas on which the Bolsheviks could build the Communist Party. Lenin became powerful in a way that Ulyanov never could. Lenin unintentionally guaranteed the number one spot in a google search.

Similar things could be said about Stalin. Stalin; the name, is derived from steel. Stalin as a given name became popular after the Stalin became popular. Almost one-hundred years later Stalin is still permanently embedded in the minds of many as the one singular sensation Joseph Stalin.

Played by Chris Hults

Lenin and Stalin—they were the Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer of communism.
It’s no wonder that Lenin was included as a character in Travesties. What one name had as much power in 1917? Continue reading

Spoiler Alert

By Rick Curtiss, DramaturgUlysses

“he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and dream him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I say yes I will Yes.”

James Joyce, Zurich 1915

That is the last—I hesitate to call it line—phrase from James Joyce’s Ulysses. It finishes a thirty page, punctuation free, stream of consciousness section which consists of the thoughts of Molly Bloom as she lays next to her husband. The last thing she remembers before the novel ends is the moment her husband proposed to her.

Which is, I guess, what one could call a spoiler—

But a benign one I assure you. Not that all spoilers are benign. Most novels are better when experienced without any pre(conceived)peratory information about the end, but I could go through the entire plot of Ulysses in a couple of paragraphs, every major detail displayed, and I wouldn’t consider it an offense, or even an enhancement. It is just the facts.

Joyce didn’t seem concerned with the “is,” the course of action that led from one event to the next, a rubegoldbergian set up of potential disaster triumphantly avoided or tragically brought to pass. Rather, the novels richness is found in the profound internal experiences of the everyday. The experience of reading is the reward, not knowing what happens.

Played by Sierra Docken (not a joke)

In “Travesties”, James Joyce is played by Sierra Docken (not a joke)

You could be told everything about going to Glacier National Park, but that doesn’t diminish going there. Tasting food isn’t spoiled by being told what it tastes like. It’s almost impossible to spoil Joyce’s novel by only describing its contents.

But Ulysses is often spoiled. It’s been called among others things: difficult, confusing, nigh-impenetrable, not for high-schoolers, not for undergrads, hard to follow, obscene. I have little evidence to confront any of those qualifiers, but instead of being spoiled by giving away too much information, Ulysses is spoiled by not giving enough. When initially described, it becomes an esoteric icon to be read about but not to read. What is left unsaid is that Ulysses benefits from context, and preparation. Every moment in the novel doesn’t need to be understood to be enjoyed, and pausing to think, re-reading, and skipping around are not signs of incompetence in the writer or the reader. It’s difficult, yes, but a challenging read can be immensely rewarding.

Ulysses is not unique in this regard. Continue reading

In Vino Veritas

By Rick Curtiss, Dramaturg

trav·es·ty  /ˈtravəstē/

  1. a false, absurd, or distorted representation of something.

As the dramaturg for Travesties, I get the ever less rare opportunity of discovering the undiscovered, or more bluntly, accessing the inaccessible. Travesties is the kind of show where having a healthy grasp of Romanian geography, early twentieth century British fashion, and Leopold Bloom will serve the audience well, but who has the time?

Rather lets put aside the notion of that learning precedes understanding with some good old fashioned-

In Vino Veritas

It’s a Latin phrase. It means “in wine, truth.” Which is to say, “The truth is in the wine,” or “after drinking wine the truth flows free,” or maybe it’s “the complex nature of the metabolic processes which occur after drinking alcohol (wine included) results in an altered chemical brain state which in turn lets the imbiber process ideas in a different way, allowing previously unseen truth to be recognized.”

The idea that alcohol can influence truth and understanding goes as far back as the fifth century BC Greek “father of history” Herodotus. He asserted that if a Persian decided something while drunk, they should consider it while sober. Since then, authors have added that if the Persians made a decision while sober, they should reconsider it while drunk.

All it takes is some sugar, water, a microscopic fungus, and you too can have your own second opinion.

I admit, as a dramaturg and supporter of unconsidered viewpoints the vino possibilities are curiously compelling–that there might be another dramaturg hidden in my head, just a couple of compromises away. Yet I am faced with a quandary both moral and institutional. I am a student at BYU which is constantly reaffirmed by Facebook posts, comments in class, and the annual Princeton Review as the No. 1 Stone-Cold sober school in United States. We are so sober that it can only be understood in terms of the WWE wrestler Steve Austin. At BYU sobriety is never without the stone-cold modifier. Every morning in the mirror I repeat the affirmation—I’m sober, but am I stone-cold sober? I imagine we all do. Inevitably, I can only wander down this dramaturgical path to drinking so far. I never crest the hill of understanding where I say to Herodotus, “Right on man, I totally get that.” By choice, I am forever separated from my inaccessible drunken self.

And yet-

The following is a recording from an Interview that dramaturgs Jessa Cunningham and I conducted with Roger Sorenson and Megan Sanborn Jones, the directors of The Importance of Being Earnest and Travesties respectively. Continue reading

Time it is a-Changin’

by Rick Curtiss, dramaturg

Microburst-TheatreThe times they are a-changin’ ― Bob Dylan sung that. I wouldn’t go as far as to attribute the quote to him. It seems too foundational to have been discovered in the twentieth century, and I wouldn’t be surprised if our first nation ancestors looked at the dwindling mammoth herds and shrugged ― The times they are a-changin’.

The times they are a-changin’ with MicroBurst Theatre Festival as well.

The director has changed. After being successfully spearheaded by George Nelson for two seasons, the reign has been passed to Roger Sorenson. The new director brings new ideas, and the new idea is new directors. Six student directors have joined the production.  Then thirteen writers with thirteen short plays were fished out of a sea of submissions joining a design team, stage manager, two dramaturgs, and a partridge in a pear tree (if needed.)

The whole thing certainly feels festive.

Theater naturally migrates toward a production community, but MicroBurst demands it. It is bringing together different personalities, approaches, and aesthetics. All jobs are shared, and all jobs are important. Continue reading

Music and Performance with Patrick Livingston

by Rick Curtiss, Dramaturg

The_Winter's_TaleI had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Livingston for today’s blog. He helped create the music and plays Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale. His double duty roles give fascinating insight into the creation of the show. After tonight’s (Thursday April 2nd) performance Patrick and the entire cast will be available for a post show discussion where you can be the interviewer and ask your questions about the show. Continue reading

Insights from Costume Designer Mary Farahnakian

by Rick Curtiss, dramaturg

The_Winter's_TaleAt a recent post show discussion for The Winter’s Tale (held every Thursday night after the show), one of the first questions from the audience was about the amazing costumes. I’m happy to report that I had the pleasure of interviewing costume designer Mary Farahnakian right before the show opened, and am excited to share her insights with you. The costumes in the show are inspiring in both their attention to detail and dedication to the themes of the show. Continue reading

The Winter’s Tale: Battle Royal Part 2

by Rick Curtiss, dramaturg

The fighting continues…(to read more about what is “The Winter’s Tale: Battle Royal”, check out Part 1 of this post here).

perditaPerdita
played by: Mckenzie Steele Foster

Intro: Desperate to find the origins of her past, Perdita enters the tournament knowing the odds are stacked against her.
Ending: Saved by a mysterious stranger, Perdita defeats Darkpocolypse , but did she find love in the process?

Style: Even at 15, Perdita has mastered the Bohemian Mystic arts, and her speed allows her to close the gap on unsuspecting foes.
Regal Blast – A shot that can be charged to it’s full potential. It is said that only Royal bloodlines can use it
Clandestine Blast – Sneak in a clandestine shot while remaining hidden
Shepard’s Flame – Fly into the air to get a better look at the sheep, or escape enemies
Nature’s Gaurd – Summon the spirit of the earth to protect you
Super Move: Wither o’ Wither – Summon a mothers love to blast enemies Continue reading