"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Happy Easter!

I think Easter must be coming up soon. Easter eggs were always my favorite thing about this charming spring holiday - searching for them indoors and out, mostly around and under plants (or maybe that was just my favorite place to find them, as a child; now they appear on Google!). Here's a wonderful video my friend Tangren made, "Dollhouse Easter Morning." Check out her YouTube channel and blog - some more real treats there. I can't watch these without feeling a lift of the spirits. Her Flikr site is full of doll treasures too. So I'm a fan, okay.

And a bonus for my sweet lady friends!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Happy Spring Holiday!

As today's the official scientific date for the beginning of spring, I thought it might be nice to revisit a blog post of yore which I've copied below. Watch this blog for a special post on Easter Day - an Easter Egg surprise :)

Navroze mubarak! Happy Ostara! It's spring equinox!

I love the Internet. How else could I keep track of all my favorite holidays? My Google calendar tells me today isNavroz (Wikipedia link), the Zoroastrian New Year as celebrated in India. Salim Merchant also reminds me of it. He's a favorite Indian composer whose wanderings I've been fan-following on Twitter lately; he wishes his followers a "navroze mubarak" and a link to an UberTwitter photo, which turns out to be a screenshot of a GoogleMaps locator of Mumbai, where he lives, most famously known home of the extraordinary Parsi community which has so enriched Indian culture.

(My customary Disclaimer here: I am not an expert in any of this, just a fascinated individual able to connect with the world through the Internet.) In case you don't know, the Parsis are Zoroastrian Indians who migrated to the west coast of India in the tenth century (c.e.) to escape persecution by Muslims, who were then overrunning Iran with their new religion and their Arabic influences. (Iranis are the other Zoroastrian Indians.)

Here's a charming blog post I came across, titled "Being Bawa on Navroze at Udwada," by a Parsi about her Navroze family celebration and telling something about the traditions in a very colorful and interesting way. I loved it! I gather, from context, that bawa must mean getting up to the nines in holiday finery, and learned that Udwada, on the Gujarat coast, is the home of the essential historic temple that all Parsis long to visit in their lifetimes: "On New Year, the sleepy village awakens just that wee bit as visitors from Mumbai, Pune, Valsad, Surat, Lucknow and even Canada, Pakistan and Australia, throng to the most-sacred and oldest and perennially-burning fire in the world."  Go to the post for much more. There are some wonderful pictures too.

Of course, as a Northern California girl with a mostly Norwegian ethnic background, I didn't exactly grow up jumping over fires in the traditional Zoroastrian celebration, but I've felt a kind of affinity with the holiday ever since reading some books in recent years, Jumping Over Fire (reviewed here) and Searching for Hassan  (reviewed here). They're both set in Iran, and both include Norooz celebrations as the jumping-off point for the narratives.

Navroz (which is spelled any number of ways and is celebrated in many countries besides India and Iran, and not just by Zoroastrians anymore) happens on the vernal equinox, the secular spring. Most of us think of equinoxes as the two days in the year (spring and fall) when day and night are of equal length, and know this happens on account of the tilt of the earth's axis in relation to the sun, and that's good enough for most of us, but the Wikipedia entry (linked above) does delve into a lot of interesting technicalities, including the rather more specific point that the equinox is really the time on the calendar in which "two observers the same distance north and south of the equator will experience nights of the same length" and that the term for days of equal length is (for obvious reasons) equilux.  I have to put in a plug for that Wikipedia entry here - it also includes a great section on cultural aspects of the equinox.

So it's the spring equinox: happy Ostara, everyone, too! That's the original spring seasonal observance of my European ancestors, from which the Christians appropriated Easter. When the Christians conquered our land in the sixth century (c.e.) and imposed their religion on my ancestors (they called this often-violent process "conversion," I believe) they outlawed previous spiritual observances including Ostara (just as the extremist Muslims keep trying to do with Navroz; what is it about these Great Religions?), but, in their clever way, instead of stamping it out entirely, the Christians took it over and gave it a spin, by adding a couple of other calculations: so now Easter is based not just on the Equinox, but on the current full moon following the Equinox (oops, still too pagan - Moon Goddess and all that - better add another step) and then the day of the week after that (it must be on a Sunday). (Wait, Christians - don't you know Sunday is the day named after the SUN??? As in solar observations, such as Ostara?) And it's still named Easter, and just look up the derivation of that word.
Not sure what the moral of the story is, but people all over the world and through the ages keep celebrating the March Equinox as the universal Spring day. And as the true New Year. Certainly, as Wikipedia says, it's the "precise moment in time which is common to all observers on Earth." And the "Nov" sound in the various spellings of Novroze (Nowruz, Newroz, Nooruz, Navroz, etc.) is the root for our English "new." So - mubarak, everyone! A good time to start over. Wishing peace to all!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Shakespeare-Iraq: from Iraq to Ashland

Update 7/5/12: they're here in Ashland! We saw them on Tuesday night at the Green Show and it was such fun. The crowd loved them and they seemed to be having great time. Much love all around. They did an amazing thing switching back and forth in Shakespeare scenes, between English and Kurdish and since the scenes were familiar it was always clear what was going on - and they did it with seeming ease. They also did some charming Iraqui singing and dancing, answered questions, and generally charmed. They had another performance tonight, which I had to miss, and two more - Saturday and Sunday. On Tuesday, they were in the audience for Henry V.  It was a great performance and I'm glad they got to see it. More later. A documentary is being filmed about this story by one of the filmmakers who had an entry in this year's AIFF. And they've been invited up to Portland too. SO happy!

Here's some nice news coverage: http://www.kobi5.com/news/local-news/item/building-cultural-bridges-through-shakespeare.html

Update: They made their goal! We are so happy in my neighborhood! We can't wait to see them here in July at the Green Show. Don't you love it when a crowdsourced project you supported succeeds?!

Original post:
This is such a wonderful Kickstarter project - but they have a long way to go to reach their goal. I so hope they succeed because I'd love to see them here in Ashland! I made my own small pledge for the cause. How about you? Here's the site. Don't you just love Kickstarter? Click on the video for more:

Description of the project, from the Kickstarter site:
Shakespeare Iraq.

Shakespeare Iraq?
That's right. This project involves a group of Iraqi college students at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani who formed a Shakespearean company and are now invited to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. This was not what anyone had in mind at first. What began as an appreciation-type club was quickly overrun by the students' passion for doing a live performance. Last June, they did it -- an English-language Shakespeare production, not on a campus or Green Zone, but in a public theater -- the first of its kind ever in the country.
Soon afterwards, I did a radio interview on Bob Scheer's Truthdig radio. An Oregon Shakespeare Festival subscriber was listening, and before we knew it, we were offered a one-week slot OSF's Green Show.
Anyone near OSF knows their strong bonds with the local community, how they constantly search for new ways to refresh and enhance those bonds. If you go to a show there, and look in the audience, you feel like you're at a ball game, shopping center or airport. In other words, there's all kinds of people there -- not just "theater types." For a troupe of Iraqi student theater artists, looking for lessons to bring back their country, what more could you ask for?
OSF's Green Show is no sideshow. There are highly talented groups from across the country and world that make it onto that stage, and we will be bringing our A game to keep up.

The money we will raise gets us from here to there -- OSF has agreed to take good care of us after that.

If you're somewhere close to excited as we are about this, and you're interested in supporting us, I send you a big shokran, zor spas, and heartfelt thanks from Shakespeare Iraq.
Peter Friedrich
Head of Drama
American University of Iraq - Sulaimani

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

OSF 2012: Hooray for Captain Spauling; Two Reminiscences (theater review)

There was once a fascinating and rather strange collection of vaudeville materials maintained by a little-known and struggling nonprofit called the Society for Preservation of Variety Arts (SPVA), housed in the basement of the Magic Castle in Los Angeles. I once had the good fortune to visit the collection beneath the Castle, and explore its archive of art and various special collections bequeathed by actors and other members of the theater world. Some of the donors had made a successful transition into film from vaudeville, though most were names unfamiliar to me. But they came to life for me in rows of black notebooks crammed full of comedians' personal collections of jokes--their stock in trade. These were the accretions of lifetimes of struggle in the ragtag world of vaudeville, and they were both sad and hilarious. Reading through them was to see the universality of humor, as the jokes were worked and reworked in cramped handwriting, with different dates, cities, audiences and theaters noted.

For the frustrated archivist in me, that was a magical experience and I still remember it with a thrill. Sadly, the Society fell prey to fiscal shortages and as far as I know, it was finally disbanded. Where are these artifacts of a lost art form now? I hope they're housed safely somewhere, to be brought out again by a generation capable of appreciating them. The very rich entertainment world centered in Los Angeles could not even find in its pockets the pittance of monetary lint it would have taken to maintain this archive remembering their forebears.

Mark Bedard as Capt. Spaulding (Groucho)
That is both introduction to my review and the gist of it: when I visited the SPVA, it was a given that the time of vaudeville was long gone, and the world of variety entertainment remained only as an echo in the culture that grew into film and later types of performance art.

Well, all I can say is, hooray for Captain Spaulding! The variety arts live again in this wonderful OSF production of the George S. Kaufman play. It's a brilliant tribute, recreating in a vital and convincing way the experience of how it must have been to attend the actual stage production that the later film was based upon. Marx Brothers movies are very entertaining and at times surpassingly hilarious, but by all accounts they don't hold a candle to the Marx Brothers in person, on stage, and now I can see that must be true. This production is first rate, and it's way better than a movie. There's nothing like hearing singers and seeing dancers and watching pratfalls and puzzling over stage illusions in person. Animal Crackers encompasses and celebrates the wide variety of performance arts vaudeville was famous for - so many skills, and they go by so fast, that it's impossible to remember them all, much less list them. The performers are amazing, and the live musicians (on stage), the set and staging, all of it - absolutely wonderful.

My thanks to everyone who played a part in putting together this production. I had such fun!

Comment: My friend Bert, who is 90-something, sent this comment via email and I share it here:
You now know someone who, at the age of 12,  did see both the original Broadway production of "Animal Crackers" featuring the uncontainable Brothers Marx and also the current OSF production of a revision of "Animal Crackers" starring an extremely gifted cast, including but by no means limited to the actors impersonating Groucho, Chico and Harpo inhabiting Captain Spalding, Ravelli and The Professor.

It is, however, completely unfair for me to compare the two experiences even up, since obviously I am not exactly the same person as that wide-eyed 12-year-old.

He giggled.  I guffawed.

He concentrated on the acrobatics.  I was enchanted by the timing.

He missed most of the sexual innuendo.  I didn't.

He liked the way the villain lady got her come-uppance.  I heard the whole of high society being parodied.

He thought the repartee was fast.  I heard the one-liners pile on top of each other so quickly there was no time to breathe between them.

He thought some of the love songs were "soupy."  I thought "We're Four of the Three Musketeers" was brilliantly hilarious.

This production is one of OSF's triumphs and those who miss it are depriving themselves of an experience that will make them a great deal happier!
Bert added
I've seen the OSF show twice - thus far.  (And there will be more viewings to come as I take out-of-town visitors, family and friends, to see it in coming months.)  Both times, there was ad-libbing both in dialogue and in action, so my experience thus far is that it hasn't been identical performance to performance.  It's been an adventure with surprises each time.  (But that was even more true of the original Broadway production where the original Marx brothers loosely followed Kaufman's script and took off night after night in whatever direction trhe spirit moved them.  Kaufman is famously alleged to have begged a noisy friend during one performance, "Shhh! I think I just heard one of my lines!")

Notes: if you're a John Tufts fan (as I am) you can see him as Emmanuel Rivelli (Chico) until April 7. After that, he rotates in the role with Daisuke Tsuji (who I'm sure is also very fine).
Here's a link to the play at the OSF site. See also their videos and podcasts for background material.
Through Nov. 4, 2012