The Very Spring and Root

An engineer's adventures in education (and other musings).

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April 2012

And that’s a wrap on WITTENBERG, my final production with the nonprofit theatre company I helped to start almost three years ago. It’s a bittersweet day I guess. On the one hand, I’m sad to be leaving an artistic project that snowballed faster than I could have ever imagined into a unique company that changes and grows with every production. I’m also sad to be leaving what have become some of my closest friends and pseudo-family here in the AV theatre community. On the other hand, I’m both thankful and proud to have been able to work with so many amazingly dedicated and creative people in producing and/or directing AVT’s first eight productions.

WITTENBERG was a great show to go out on… I don’t know what I’ll do now that I’m actually not working on an upcoming show for once! Maybe I’ll serial-blog the story of AVT’s first three years with my new-found time…

Damn straight. 


Your cartoon of the day!

By Mike Luckovich
From the Cartoonist Group.


I’ve been within one drink and a 5 minute conversation of being convinced that I should get the secret order of the emperor tattoo on many occasions. This is my all-time favorite game, and I doubt I’m ever going to replace it with something else.

Matthew Dyer, on one of the many hopeful blog posts speculating on (or despairing of) ever seeing the return of the (epically awesome) computer game TIE Fighter

“The only thing that rises above the noise of the rhetoric… is the roar of a launch.”

Yeah baby. Crank your speakers to 11 and enjoy some applied rocket science.

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth.

Ptolemy,c.150 AD (via ikenbot)

BTR Announces Host Schools

BTR has posted the schools with which Cohort X will be working this next year. Looks like since I’m on a high school physics track, I will be at either Burke High School in Dorchester (where I had my final interviews on Selection Day) or Boston Community Leadership Academy in Hyde Park (now in Brighton, but moving).

Some quick stats from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Burke High School (public high school):

  • Minority: 92.6%
  • First language not English: 38.7%
  • Limited English proficiency: 25.1%
  • Low-Income: 75.9%
  • Special Education: 20.4%

Boston Community Leadership Academy (pilot high school):

  • Minority: 98.9%
  • First language not English: 53.7%
  • Limited English proficiency: 26.8%
  • Low-Income: 84.8%
  • Special Education: 14.6%

Nervous of the challenge but excited to face it. Burke for example: 0% pass rate for the just 10 students who attempted the AP Physics (Mechanics) exam. Overall only 7% are testing at “proficient” or higher in science by Grade 10. Looks like there’s work to do… saddle up.

Why Evolution is True”

Why Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne I’ve just started reading: Why Evolution Is True by Jerry A. Coyne and so far it’s excellent. I was surprised to encounter even in the first chapter things I didin’t know. It’s interesting how politicized science, like evolution and climate change for example, lend themselves to having everyone on all sides believing that they know more than they do.

Wired: Tech Billionaires Plan Audacious Mission to Mine Asteroids

Link: Wired: Tech Billionaires Plan Audacious Mission to Mine Asteroids

A group of wealthy, adventurous entrepreneurs will announce on Apr. 24 a new venture called Planetary Resources, Inc., which plans to send swarms of robots to space to scout asteroids for precious metals and set up mines to bring resources back to Earth, in the process adding trillions of dollars to the global GDP, helping ensure humanity’s prosperity and paving the way for the human settlement of space.

“The resources of Earth pale in comparison to the wealth of the solar system,” said Eric Anderson, who founded the commercial space tourism company Space Adventures, and is co-founder of a new company along with Peter Diamandis, who started the X Prize foundation, which offers prize-based incentives for advanced technology development.

Nearly 9,000 asteroids larger than 150 feet in diameter orbit near the Earth. Some could contain as much platinum as is mined in an entire year on Earth, making them potentially worth several billion dollars each. The right kinds of investment could reap huge rewards for those willing to take the risk.

I think I need to push out one of the novel storylines I’m working on… that’s the trouble with science fiction, it keeps turning into science fact. 🙂

On the crowd dynamics of tragical-comical-historicals.

Theatre by nature is a nebulous beast. It is a living thing, changing and morphing every night. The same actors, the same audience, the same script, but a different night — with different energy, different perspectives, different moods that vary in us humans minute by minute — it can be a totally different show each night.

It’s been a fantastic second weekend of an eight-show run of WITTENBERG, by David Davalos, which I had an exceptionally good time producing and directing.  I expected from the outset a variety of responses to this simultaneously witty, serious, absurd, literary, deeply spiritual, and borderline-blasphemous production… however, the last two shows in particular have been remarkable studies in contrast.

Saturday night: packed house (only one seat left), vigorous energy from the actors, rollicking laughter from the crowd (even at the profoundly nerdy parts), and the general euphoria that pervades everything when you are ON FIRE and know it. The kind of show that everyone remembers was exhilarating but it seems very hard to reconstruct in detail.

This evening: fairly sparse crowd (competing with the California Poppy Festival), excellently acted show, fine sense of rhythm…. but the audience was just DEAD. I mean, set aside the brainy allusions and witty wordplay, even the poop jokes and sex puppets fell on light smirks at best. (Though for the record, if one woman storms out at intermission indignant that I would produce such filth on a Sunday, while another is thanking me for renewing her faith, I think I’ve done my job.) 

I have to confess, despite thirteen years of theatre, I still haven’t figured out why the reaction of whole crowds to some plays just works like that. I have a few theories:

  1. Especially in subtle comedies, where the humor is beneath the surface (or the humor lies in the fact that the characters are being dead serious about something perfectly ridiculous), sometimes people aren’t sure if its OK to laugh? In large crowds, you’re more likely to have that one person who just can’t contain it — the one who lets everyone else know by his or her unabashed giggling that it’s ok to… well, unclench.
  2. With the exception of a few Old Souls out there, maybe we’re so used to media being cleanly packaged for us these days: THIS is a teen comedy, THAT is a high-brow thriller, and OVER THERE is a sappy tearjerker. When ideas come in layers, perhaps we are simply unprepared to respond to a play that juxtaposes a plea for individual spiritual renewal with tongue-in-cheek commentary on Friedrich Nietzsche with mockery of famous Shakespearean actors (in iambic pentameter no less) with Martin Luther’s ecstatic relief after a long bout of constipation is explosively ended? 
  3. Or… Maybe I and my friends are just too nerdy. I realize that its unreasonable to expect that the general population will find a parody of Kant and a dig at Kenneth Branagh hilarious. But it’s not all that level of nerdy, far from it. I mean really, two hours of DEAD SILENCE right after a night in which I was certain half the room was about to PEE THEIR PANTS? 

Perhaps some combination of the above and other things I haven’t thought of. Hmm…

In any case, I’m very pleased with the production and how the run has been on the whole. The actors have been exceptionally captivating to watch in their approach to their characterization and interplay with each other. The technical design is beautiful and clever, and I really have to give the design team props for that. This has been a fantastic production to call my last in the valley.

If you’re local, two more chances to catch it. And if you come and don’t know which way you should react… just pick one and go with it. This is theatre. We laugh, we cry, we scream, we love, which are all choices just like the choices and actor makes on stage moment to moment. But above all we offer a window into the human condition, a window that cannot open unless you open yourself to it. 

In other words, maybe what I’m trying to say is that if you’re ever unsure, in theatre or in general, embrace it… and take a leap of faith.