Archive for November, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving to all

Update to yesterday’s post: Yes, Show of Hands can be found on iTunes USA. Their rather long (31 songs) “best of” collection made excellent driving music last night. Check ’em out if you’re so inclined.

A happy Thanksgiving to everybody from Nashville, Tennessee, where Megan and I decided to disappear to over the long holiday. We got in last night and will be here until Sunday. We’re at a delightful little place just outside of Hillsboro Village called the Daisy Hill Bed and Breakfast; it’s adorable, very welcoming, and quite reasonable for such establishments in this area. Linda and Darrell Bengson, the innkeepers, do things very nicely here, and I highly recommend staying here if you are looking for a place to stay in Nashville.

As well, if you ever happen to be in Nashville on Thanksgiving without dinner plans, Maggiano’s does an excellent, and rather reasonably priced, family-style Thanksgiving dinner with an Italian flavor. I’d go there again in a heartbeat — just make sure you haven’t spent the day grazing beforehand.

Full report a bit later, but in the meantime, I hope everybody has had a day worth being thankful for, one way or the other.

J. R. R. Tolkien’s favorite band

With a tip of the hat to Rod Dreher, I find myself very intrigued by English folk/roots duo Show of Hands. Rather than attempt to describe them when I’m still getting familiar with their music myself, check out this song, “Roots,” for yourself:

It’s interesting encountering this at a time when I’m rereading The Lord of the Rings for the first time since a number of things began to clarify my own perspective on, well, what we might broadly describe as the things worth preserving (to say nothing of a first trip to England). I now see, as I never could before, Tolkien’s idealization of the English countryside and the attendant way of life — as well as his Catholic faith — as the protagonists every bit as much as Frodo and Sam. Tolkien understood very well the sentiment expressed in the line from “Roots,” “Without our stories or our songs, how will we know where we come from?” His particularly English mythopoeia was, however much of a retrofit as it may have been, his own reclamation effort on that front.

Anyway, if Show of Hands is available via iTunes US, I will be exploring further.

The final week of NaNoWriMo and so on

My gold coffee filter was soaking in soapy water all night; I rinsed it out before using it this morning, but the coffee still distinctly tasted of soap and had a decidedly viscous texture. My tongue still feels slimy. Blech.

I will definitely not reach 50,000 words by Sunday. However, there is no doubt in my mind that, save a natural disaster, I will finish the first draft of Pascha at the Singing School by then. I think it will end up around 20,000 words; right now, with Matthias having just confessed in the Saint Catherine Chapel and skipping off to the warmup for the Paschal liturgy, I’m just shy of 15,000 words with just the final plot point and dénouement to go, and depending on how carefully I choreograph the action in the finale, we’re probably talking 3,000-5,000 words. I think I can do this with relative ease over the Thanksgiving break. Then I will stick it in a drawer for two weeks and see what I’ve actually got afterwards. When I’m done crying, I’ll figure out what needs to be fixed and then see what I can do about having some pencil sketches done of some key moments. Maybe, just maybe, I can start trying to shop this thing around in January.

By the way, if you’re at all like me and annoyed that store-bought cereal appears to be increasingly expensive for what you get, I have found that this recipe yields absolutely wonderful results. I made a batch last night, using a cup of walnuts and a cup of pecans and following the suggestion to add hulled sunflower seeds, and tried it this morning; it’s tasty (particularly with raisins added), it’s healthy, and it’s easy to make. I’m not certain that it’s necessarily any less expensive than store-bought cereal, given what nuts cost, but I am certain that it’s more satisfying one way or the other, and likely to be a lot healthier.

My piece on Warren Central and Matthew Oskay

My brief posting on the tragedy of Matthew Oskay’s death has gotten enough traffic, and enough clicks on the preview of the piece I wrote for Stage Directions that I thought that those mourning Mr. Oskay might appreciate being able to see the whole thing. I’d love to just scan the magazine pages and post those, but I don’t own the copyright to the issue, so I don’t think I can do that. Nonetheless, here is the full text of what I submitted to Stage Directions, before editorial added their own stylistic flourishes and before Mr. Oskay made one or two comments to the effect of, “I know you recorded me saying that, but what I actually meant to say was this…” As I said, the impression I got in my dealings with him was of a young man who loved what he did and who was thrilled to be living the life he had, and I tried to bring that out as much as I could, given that it was an article for a technical theatre magazine.

“To have this facility makes it a dream job,” explains Matthew Oskay, technical director of the Performing Arts Center at Warren Central High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. Indeed, the word that comes leaping to mind throughout the 100,0000 square foot comprehensive complex for the performing arts is, simply, wow.

Built in 1984 thanks to a boom in tax income, the Performing Arts Center boasts a 976-seat main auditorium with a 48×25 proscenium, 60 foot fly loft, and a Barton theater organ, 60×60 black box, fully-equipped scene shop, dance studio, piano lab, ensemble rooms, individual practice rooms, and a music library. Even at twenty-two years old, says Oskay, “I don’t think there’s anything we can’t do in this facility. It has all the bells and whistles you could ever want.” The high school itself is mammoth; at roughly a million square feet, according to Oskay, it is the largest four year (9-12) high school under one roof in the United States.

The stage lighting is managed via an ETC Expression 3 console, the house lights controlled with an AMX board. Also in the mainstage’s booth is a Panasonic Digital A/V mixer WJ-MX20 and a Midas Legend 3000. “The mixer’s very nice, and we’re getting new monitors,” Oskay says. “The reason for going with the Legend rather than the Yamaha M7CL or a digital board is that, from a teaching standpoint, analog is better. It has 40 channels, and it does have programmable scenes, which is great for a big show like Into the Woods. For that, everything was on a program.”

The mainstage’s acoustics, designed with input from faculty, has allowed Warren to stage plays like Noises Off without any amplification whatsoever. Musicals, done with a full orchestra, are a different matter:  “For Into the Woods, we used all Shure Countryman E-6 body mics, with Shure ULX-P Bodypack transmitters. “High school students tend to be a little rough on the body mics, and I’ve found that the Shures withstand the best. They cost a lot, but they last longer and sound better. Plus, their gain before feedback is pretty amazing.”

The next big upgrade for the Warren mainstage will be for recording, projection and video. “We’re getting new LCD projectors so we can do more video. Everybody wants video and PowerPoint these days. We’re getting rack-mounted projector DVD players this summer. We’re slowly building it up.

“We’re going to hang retractable stereo microphones in the mainstage, and then that will go to a Alesis Masterlink digital recorder, from which we can easily burn CDs. Besides that, we’re good to go for the next ten to fifteen years.”

Oskay emphasizes the incomparable educational experience the Performing Arts Center provides. “When students graduate from here, the skill level they have because of the equipment they’re exposed to, the talent they’re exposed to, and this facility in general, is just amazing.

“The shows are run by the students all the way through. They run the sound board, the light board, they stage manage—everything is student run from the time we close the house to the time the show’s over. Unless there’s a big disaster, I just sit in the house and enjoy. There might be a mistake here and there, but it’s better for them to make a mistake and learn from it than for me to sit there and do it for them. We’ll work on it together during rehearsal, but they run it all. I try to set them up so they don’t fail.”

“The most valuable thing to us as students is that we get to do most of it,” says James Horban, a Warren senior. “It’s not just sitting in a classroom.” Justine Weed, also a senior, agrees: “There is a lot of ‘hands on’ in the shows. If you have questions, of course you can ask, but you still do it yourself.”

Both students will pursue technical theater post-high school as a result of their time at Warren. Says Horban: “Getting all the experience has been good because it’s showed us what we want to do. If we didn’t get to apply any of what we learned, we wouldn’t know if we wanted to do it as a career or not.”

“I’ve always known I wanted to be in theater,” concurs Weed, “but without the tech theater program here, I would have probably tried to act.”

“And that wouldn’t have been good for anybody,” chuckles Horban.

For the 2006-2007 school year, Aida is planned in the fall and Peter Pan in the spring, with M*A*S*H* scheduled for the black box. “We’re going to be flying people for Pan,” says Oskay. “I’ve talked to SFX, and I’ve talked to Foy, and I’ve talked to myself, and we’re going to rent the flying harness. We could do it ourselves better and more cheaply, but from a liability standpoint, it makes the most sense to rent. The real challenge is that it’s a huge show, set-wise, and we’re going to build it all ourselves. The other real challenge will be rehearsing the flying scenes.

“We’re going to try to keep Aida somewhat simple because Peter Pan will be so huge. Aida will be a lot about the lighting and sound. We’ll start building the elevator for it this summer. It won’t be complex—it’ll run off of a winch, hook into the raked stage, and go all the way to the basement.”

When asked about his dream show, Oskay replies without hesitation, “Les Miserables. We’d build a turntable, but we wouldn’t just emulate the Broadway production. I have my own ideas as to how we could do it. It’s too easy to just copy the Broadway version.” Is there any show he wouldn’t want to take on? “Peter Pan,” he laughs. “I will not do Grease!. I’d love to workshop a new musical here.”

 “We have a lot of great stuff that I don’t mind sharing. We cross-rent with other area high schools. We even rent lights to some of the professional theaters, and that’s a pretty good moneymaker for us.”

The Center’s educational value is ultimately supreme for Oskay. “For a high school, we manage to compete with a lot of colleges, and I look at it very much as a college prep program. What I have here—you can’t match it.

 “I value the fact that I have everything I need to teach. The facility speaks for itself. It’s about getting the kids to learn.

“Don’t limit yourself because you’re a high school.”

Matthew Oskay, aionia mneme

I was fortunate enough a couple of years ago to be given a professional assignment (rather than writing something on spec) to write a profile of the Performing Arts Center at Warren Central High School in Indianapolis. (Let me offer a disclaimer right now that the first line about a “bonanza of a technical education” was not mine, but rather an editorial addition.) Matthew Oskay, the technical director of the PAC, spent a generous number of hours talking to me, giving me a wonderful tour of the facility, introducing me to students, and so on. He seemed like a really nice, young, hopeful guy who couldn’t believe his own luck, and his students appeared to have a lot of love, respect, and loyalty for him. Mr. Oskay was clearly very excited by the work he did, and he talked about wanting someday to try his hand at designing a production of Les Miserables, as well as workshopping a new musical at Warren.

So, I was shocked to see this article in the Indianapolis Star. Based on the reader comments there, as well as here, it seems that suicide is perhaps a premature conclusion; certainly the man I met did not act as though he had anything other than absolutely every reason to want to live and be happy.

My prayers are with his wife, students, and friends. Memory eternal.

14 NaNoWriMo 2008 et cetera

I find it rather unlikely that I will complete 50,000 words within the next sixteen days. Nonetheless, I find it entirely possible that I will finish the first draft of what I’m working on — which, as I said before, I’m doubtful is 50,000 words long in the first place. Maybe more like 25,000 to 30,000; possibly even more like 15-20,000. We’ll see. It’s intended to be more of a shorter children’s book anyway.

Word count notwithstanding, I have been able to work on this at least a bit every day, and it’s taken me down some interesting paths. I realized that Petros and Matthias share a dorm, and that there’s a good reason for it — but I’m only going to be able to allude to that reason. I’ll have to save the full story for… well, later. I also had one of those experiences where the characters just up and decided to leave the room, leaving me behind sputtering, “Wait! Where are you going? Come back!” Unfortunately, they didn’t listen — typical 10 and 11 year-olds — meaning I had to run outside after them, only to find out that they were playing something called campyon, and now I had to learn the rules (such as they are) in order to keep up. (And, who knew, turns out campyon actually exists.) Not altogether certain about the propriety of “playing at ball” on the Feast of Feasts, but nobody asked me. Maybe once they’re done with their game, these kids can be bothered to, y’know, actually start following my outline again.

In other writing news, one of essays I put up here while lamenting a lack of a publisher seems to have found a publisher. Again, this was not a case of anybody stumbling across it online and saying, “I’ve got to have this!” Rather, I sent a revised (and ultimately, better) version of the piece to the editor saying, “I understand your theme for an upcoming issue is such-and-such. What would you think about this for that issue?” The editor wrote back saying yes, I like it, let’s do it. As before, I’d rather not say anything concrete about what or where until the issue is out, just because I know that nothing’s a done deal until the printed matter is actually in your hands, but this looks hopeful.

I urge you to listen to the final address to the OCA’s All-American Council of the newly-elected Metropolitan Jonah. (For that matter, just go here and listen to everything.) You may recall that I heard him, back when he was still Abbot Jonah (Paffhausen), at the Fellowship of Ss. Alban and Sergius Conference back in June; missing a good chunk of his talk and being in the Antiochian Archdiocese, I lacked some of the necessary context to understand what he was saying, but the reaction of those who were in the OCA and who got to hear him from the beginning was palpable. His manner is, to me anyway, rather reminiscent of that of Bishop MARK; I will be interested to see if they ever have cause to work together on anything. The address linked to above is prophetic and visionary at the very least; now, as he himself says, they’ve got a lot of work to do. He, and all of the OCA, have my fervent prayers.

Graduate Application Tip of the Day: Turns out, at least at IU, a formal IU transcript doesn’t need to be ordered (read “paid for”) for an internal application. They can just access your record electronically. If your GRE scores are already part of your record, you don’t need to pay to have those sent, either. It would have been nice to know this the last, oh, three times I applied for grad programs here, but at this stage of the game, I’ll take what I can get. If you’re in a similar situation someplace, know that it doesn’t hurt to ask.

I will wrap this up for the moment by noting two news items. First, I’m wondering, in response to this story, if perhaps somebody posted a sign saying “Free Orthodox Church.” Certainly, every time I see a sign for a “Free Methodist Church,” I think to myself, “Great, but where would I put it?”

Secondly — well, all I can say is that sometimes you can’t make this stuff up. I should go back and re-read William Gibson’s Neuromancer to see just how much stranger today’s reality of media and computers networks has become than the fantasy of twenty-some years ago.

Okay, back to waiting for these kids to finish their silly game of campyon.

One election thought, and one only

Look, for a variety of reasons, I’m not voting tomorrow. This is not a political blog, so I don’t want to go into detail why, but I have one thought before this time tomorrow night, when it will be all over except for the suing —

I’ve never given the Jeremiah Wright flap any particular currency, and I still don’t. I don’t want to get derailed by that either, I just want to make this particular observation: what does it say about us that we can so easily accept the idea that somebody went to a particular church for years and years and years and didn’t pay any attention to the sermons?

Just a thought. Vote, pray, or both.

Richard’s Twitter

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