Thursday, February 26, 2009

Not Orpheus but Eurydice

Last night, the housemates and I were sponsored by a volunteer corps board member to go see the play "Eurydice" at the Roundhouse Theater in Bethesda. I had determined that I wanted to go see this play some time ago. Its at a theatre called the roundhouse so I assumed (wrongly) that it would be theatre in the round. Its based on a Greek myth, and its by a contemporary female playwright. These are all things I'm very interested in. After a conversation at coffee hour, a very kind board member bought us 5 tickets to go see "Eurydice." Honestly, I was a little surprised that everyone wanted to go. Every time I've brought up theatre in DC, its been met with a lukewarm response. This is OK. I'm used to my "non-theatre" friends not always wanting to go see plays with me. In fact, if i really want to see something I will go by myself.

I decided last night that I've become a theatre snob. I had this feeling that I was the only one of the group who could really enjoy the play. This is totally untrue. Just because theatre is my chosen artistic medium, doesn't mean that people who haven't spent hundreds of hours studying theatre can't enjoy a play! Just because the housemates couldn't tell me what type of stage it was doesn't mean they can't understand what is happening on stage. For those of you who are curious, I guess you'd call this stage a non-proscenium modified thrust. Not in fact theatre in the round at all, but the audience was almost on 3/4ths. But you don't need to know any of that to enjoy it.

So to move on the storyline, the myth of Orpheus, what do we know about it? Orpheus is an epic story. Countless plays, and operas have been written about it, it echoes everywhere. It may not quite be common usage now, but I think it has been in the past. While I know the basic myth, it is not one of my favorites and I've never really studied it in depth. Before seeing the play I might have told you something like this:
Orpheus is a musician, a maker of beautiful music. On his wedding day his bride, Eurydice, dies. His love for her takes him to the underworld to beg for her back from Hades. He plays Hades beautiful music and for once, Hades shows mercy and strikes a bargain: Orpheus can have Eurydice back if he can lead her out of the underworld with out looking back, without seeing her. Orpheus almost makes it to the surface with Eurydice, but looks back to make sure she is there and loses her to death. They are not reunited until Orpheus dies, many years later.

This is what I knew going in. And look at my description. The story is all about Orpheus. And the different versions are almost always titled "Orpheus." This story is about him. However, this play is really about her. In the mythology, Eurydice is a non character. Not that most women in greek mythology get wonderful treatment, but I think it would be difficult to find one less developed as a character or more passive. We have some wonderful women, and some who are slighted. Even Helen is a strong presence "the face that launched a thousand ships", though she hardly gets to speak a word. Odysseus's patient Penelope waits at home for 20 years for her husbands return but is wily enough to trick her suitors. What does Eurydice do? She dies. Then she walks behind her husband. That's it.

To make a story centered around Eurydice is ambitious. And wonderful. I thought it was a great play and a fantastic production. The playwright did a good job navigating the original myths while making some additions. Eurydice is given a father who has been in the underworld for years, and is there to meet her when she dies. Eurydice is finally given a personality and the love between Eurydice and Orpheus seems very strong and reciprocal. They actually seem to have a connection that could conquer death. The Eurydice and Orpheus of this play could go on anyone's list of star crossed lovers.

The most interesting change is that in this play, Hades himself is obsessed with Eurydice; he actually causes her death and wants to make her queen of the underworld. This is not a part of the original myth. It gives some weight to the story. It presents an actual villain. Eurydice, instead of being bitten by a snake on her wedding day, is actually stolen by death. Orpheus is then trying to right a wrong of the universe, not just wildly mourning a woman who died too young, but one who shouldn't have died at all.

I will move on and discuss some of the particulars of this production. I realized last night that apparently I have a few rules for theatre. One of my rules is that if you have an elaborate set, you better use it. Another rule is: if you have a real body of water on stage, someone better get submerged in it! The production did both of these things.

I don't like huge, expensive set pieces that are used only once. I once saw a play that had the capability to revolve their entire set to reveal an alley way, and they moved the whole set for a two minute dream sequence. Then it was back to normal and never used again. I thought that was ridiculous. I'm not interested in how big or gorgeous your set is. I'm interested in how you it. This production's use of their set was very pleasing.They had a reasonably complicated set, but used it all to satisfaction. The back and forth movement between the underworld and the real world was done through a complicated scaffolding system, extensive lighting and some draped fabric.

The set itself was a thrust stage built to look like a shore. A stream ran down the middle of the stage, and the very front of the stage was water, with a sort of ledge to keep it from running into the audience. This water turned out to be shallow, maybe a foot deep. However three was some kind of trap door in the water that allowed a character to be completely emerged to great effect. I was honesty surprised by the technical capabilities of this show, and this theatre. They had several trap doors. They dropped things from the catwalk. At one point they showered balloons form "heaven" and managed to get every single one of them in the water. They even had a elevator into Hades, that either worked, or they were very clever in the sound and lighting to imitate a working elevator. I think it must be the latter, but it was very convincing.

I have been considering the concept of "knowing" a story for several days now. I went into this production knowing the myth. One of my housemates refused to be told the myth, preferring not to know anything before she saw the production. Is the the theatre major in me who wants to know the story? Why do we want to read a play before we see it? What does that do for you the audience member?

Interestingly, I am going to see a production of the Checkov play "Uncle Vanya" next week when I'm in Tacoma. I talked to a friend who is in the production and I asked if I should read the play before I come to see it. He told me no, that it was not necessary to my enjoyment for me to know the play. So where does this idea come from? In Shakespeare's day, his whole audience would have know the plot of most of his plays. Almost all of them come from other sources that would have been familiar to Shakespeare's audience. And today the popular Shakespeare plays are in our vernacular. It would be difficult to walk into Hamlet without knowing "to be or not to be" and how it ends. So how does this translate to "Eurydice?" Well I think it doesn't really matter. I got something from know the mythology, but did my housemate loose anything by not knowing? I don't think she did.

So to conclude this very very long ramble on theatre. I loved this play. I thought the way they incorporated the themes of music and water (and actual music and water) were well done. The production values were amazing and the ending was beautiful, surprising and heartbreaking (not to mention myth breaking).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What's Beyond These Hills?

I went on a retreat this weekend with my housemates and the volunteer corps board. The whole thing was a lot of fun. It marked my first time in Delaware and my first trip to the beach in a year(!) However it was a little too cold to hang out on the beach, which was a disappointment, as I'm borderline obsessed with the ocean.

While there are a lot of things I could say about the retreat, I have some thoughts about a reflection activity we did on Saturday night. Noah and Deanna very thoughtfully created it and led it. They asked the members of the board to bring a story, a song that affected them, or an "artifact" about a time in their life when they were at a crossroads. A time when they had to make decisions about their future. When they had been where we are now.

And for our part we brought something about how we feel right now. Rachel brought a passage from a book that inspired her to change the world. Personally I think Rachel has been saving the world since she was a toddler, but this book was important in her journey.

But interestingly the other 4 of us brought songs. Mine was Rufus Wainwright's "I Don't Know What it is." Deanna, Noah, and Jen brought songs by Wilco, Neil Young, and Ani Defranco. And while these 4 artists couldn't be more dissimilar musically and in their genres, the songs all have parallel messages. One song says "the world owes us nothing and we owe earth other the world." Perfect. All of the messages were truly very similar. While we are an intentional community, its still amazing to see how closely our attitudes about where we are in life sometimes line up.

Here are lyrics from two of the songs we shared:
"If you feel like singing a song
And you want other people to sing along,
Just sing what you feel,
Don't let anyone say it's wrong" -Wilco

"I don't know what it is
But you got to do it
I don't know where to go
But you got to be there
I don't know where to fall
But I know that its comfortable where
I don't know where it is"-Rufus Wainwright

I have to say that I am making some of this post from this point on intentionally vague. I think this night of sharing and reflection is a little bit "What happens in Vegas..." The reason it was so powerful is that people were willing to dig deep and share. The board really reached into their history and found moments where they made changes or metaphorically (or literally) came to the edge of a cliff. So with out violating anyone's privacy or naming names (sorry housemates) I want to talk about some thoughts I left this activity with.

One man talked about several choices he has made in his life. He never knew exactly where he wanted to go, and to a certain extent things lined up and fell onto his lap. However the thing that stuck with me is that while he is happy with his life, he said "you may not know what you want until you are 70 and the choices are made." Somehow, instead of that making life feel futile, it seems liberating. The right choice is not always clear. And maybe the path is only illuminated when you are literally standing at the end of it.

For others, good things came to them later in life. So if the first path doesn't turn out the way you imagined, try again. My personal favorite decision making process: one man decided to go swimming instead of getting in his car to drive to California to begin law school. And now he's very happily a doctor.

For one woman, her personal desire to be a teacher lined up with what society expected of her: be a teacher. Alternately, another was willing to put everything on the line protesting the Vietnam War. Hold strong to what you believe. Really truly.

To end this post and the night, a woman told a story. A little girl from the South has never been outside of her small town. She sits on the porch with her grandfather and asks him, "What's beyond these hills?" Every time he tells her, "Open doors."

So where do we go from here? Halfway done with our volunteer year, what is next? How do I make these choices?

What's beyond these hills? Open doors.

Monday, February 2, 2009

the ball

I thought I was going to avoid talking about the ball, just slip it past you clever readers. But no, I was called out about it (thanks Clay) so here I go.

First of all, I may have misrepresented/not explained myself on this. The ball I went to was definitely not an official inaugural ball. We tried to get tickets to the youth ball, where Obama made an appearance, but couldn't get tickets. Westmoreland Church had decided to have their own Ball. There was food, and wine and live music. And they paid for our tickets which made it both affordable and convenient. The proximity of the church to our house sweetened the deal even further.

After getting home from Inauguration itself I took a nap and literally had to drag myself out of sleep and into the shower to go to the ball. But once I was awake, it seemed like the best of all deals. They provided food, so we didn't have to cook dinner, which is always a plus. The ball was "black tie suggested." The five of us dressed more like we were going to a cocktail party, and were not out of place at all.

The room where we usually have coffee hour was decorated beautifully for the event. There were tables with assigned seating and they put is in pairs at different tables. I think I haven't mentioned that Rachel's parents were visiting and they went to the ball with us, which was lot of fun. A good number of the members of the volunteer board were present, and many other people that I knew from going to church. It ended up being a very enjoyable night. I couldn't manage to get food or a drink for the first 40 minutes I was there because people kept wanting to talk to me.

After people ate, the structure relaxed a bit and we table hopped and mingled with each other and the rest of the attendees. By about 10:30 I was ready to pass out, so most of my house headed home. It ended up being a perfect way to wrap up a crazy inauguration weekend.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

the big day (almost two weeks later)

Here it is. The long awaited report of Inauguration Day! In hind sight, we had a charmed experience. For days afterword, we heard about all the people with tickets who were turned away. Or even worse, the people who were stuck in the tunnels for hours. None of that happened to us.

Instead, we woke up at about 8 and went around the corner from the place we were staying to get a cup of coffee and a muffin. The coffee shop literally didn't have a line, even though there were thousands of people in the vicinity. The single mindedness of the crowd was astounding. Everyone near us had tickets, and they were all focused on getting to their designated standing area. However, we are heavily addicted to coffee. Our first goal was caffeine. And once we got it, we were very happy girls indeed.

Deanna and I separated from the friends we stayed with. They had silver tickets, and we had purple. Purple tickets were supposedly for "dignitaries." At least that's what NPR had been reporting. But not really how we experienced it.

We had to walk about 15 minutes to get to the gate we could enter at. Because of where we started and the tickets we had, we were swimming upstream. However, this was the moment that the excitement of the whole weekend caught up to me. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of excitement and contentment. I had taken off my gloves and was warming my fingers with my coffee. I was perfectly content with my world. The excitement of the crowd was contagious. Really the whole weekend, people were amazingly friendly and polite. Especially for that many people, and especially for Washington DC.

When we found our gate, we had to wait in line to get in. This was maybe the one rough part of the process. It was a little unclear what gate we were supposed to be at, and there were people of other ticket colors mixed in with our line. Deanna and I talked about this afterword, and we are not really sure what we did right to get in. People who were there hours earlier than we were didn't make it. So somehow we just managed to be at the right gate at a good time. There was a little anxiety from the people around us at this stage. At this point, Deanna and I started singing "love, love, love" and the people around us joined in for "love is all you need." The Beatles are always good for a sing-a-long.

One they opened our gate, and we had to go through security. And something happened that puzzles me still. I had a sandwich, a granola bar and two apples in my bag. The security guard confiscated one apple. So either it take two apples to make a bomb, or they did such a poor job searching my bag that they missed the second apple. Not exactly confidence inspiring either way. So I got one apple into the inauguration, one apple out of inauguration and ate it for lunch the next day at work.

Once we were in, we scouted out a good spot to stand. Again, we made friends with the people around us, everyone was truly happy to be there. We had a group conversation about who we "hustled" to get tickets in the purple section. And I must say, thank you Washington state, that was truly the easiest hustling I've ever done.

So we got to our place at a little before 10 am, maybe. And the musical entertainment started at 10. We spent the next hour and a half singing songs, playing word games with each other, chatting up the people around us, and occasionally jumping up and down out of sheer excitement.
Honestly, the inauguration ceremony itself is a bit of a blur. We couldn't actually see very well. I could see the gumbo tron pretty well on my tiptoes. Deanna is a little shorter and had some trouble seeing. When the president and his party started entering the area, we could see them on the screen. They got huge cheers and applause. This was the third time that I have been able to see Barack Obama speak in public, which is something I honestly never dreamed I would get to experience. I think the actual swearing in was my favorite part. That is truly the moment that I will be glad I was present for.

After the inaugural address (which I had to watch at home later to really be able to concentrate on) people started to leave. This was the point of the day when I sort of went limp. I was ready for the weekend to be over, but getting home was going to be a monumental challenge. So we went back to the apartment we'd slept at and retrieved our stuff. We drank hot chocolate and waited a few hours before braving the journey home. I was home and in my bed for a nap by 5 pm. I took an hour nap, and got ready for the inaugural ball at Westmoreland Church.